Thank God it’s Friday: A Monday Story is a story about the author’s childhood journey which, undertaken with his cousin, provided the first spark of independence he had ever experienced.
As the temperature drops and the back-to-school signs go back up, I am once again reminded of those early August days of cramming in the most of summer before returning to school. Despite being my second year of not returning, I still have that feeling of anxious anticipation for the school year to come. Now a 24 year-old adult with a college degree, I find myself in the position I used to dream about as I watched the adults wave to their children from my seat on the bus. A wave of nostalgia hit me particularly hard today as both my twin cousins made their way back to college. It feels weird, thinking about them driving back while I stay behind to pursue non-academic goals. So, in an effort to pull me out of it and hopefully make you smile, I’ll share a story about my cousin and me from back in my early youth.
First off, I have to include a few disclaimers. First, my cousin Ethan and his family are related to me in all ways but familial, as my mother has a beautiful habit of creating outstanding family connections from nothing but a kind word and a friendly demeanor. Without that, this story and hundreds like it may never have happened, so for that I am extremely grateful. And in an effort to avoid all those comments from well-meaning people saying she and my aunt should have ended up in prison for child neglect, my parents and his were not informed of the decision we made that brought this story from out of the realm of dreams to become a shining, golden reality. With that being said, I’ll get to the story.
At around age 11 or 12, I suddenly came to the realization that I could use my legs to take me places. Thus began my life-long love of walking, which is a story in and of itself. But this one focuses on the first walk, a real walk, that I decided to take with my cousin Ethan, who was only 7 or 8 at the time. Both fast friends with similar thoughts, we agreed that our first real walk would be to the TGI Friday’s in Gurnee, where we would eat a hearty meal in celebration of our newfound independence. And so we began the 2.5 mile journey on foot, carrying nothing but cash in our pockets and the spirit of freedom in our hearts.
When we arrived at the hallowed Friday’s an hour later, the smell of food, fried and otherwise, was the first thing to assault our senses. The second was a very kind but confused hostess, who looked between us like she had never seen two children before. “Can we have a table for two?” I remember asking loudly, trying to compensate for the lack of my mother’s ability to ask for things for me. She only stared, glancing behind us several times in expectation of an authority figure to come walking through the door. “Surely you need a larger table than that?” she asked sweetly, still scanning the parking lot for some negligent mother getting out of her car.
My cousin and I exchanged a look: clearly, there was a reason Friday’s had hired her as a hostess and not a cashier. Checking our math once again, my cousin pointed first to himself and then to me and said, very slowly, “No. Just two please.” She stared for a second, nonplussed, before I began to tap my foot: we had traveled far to get here and my patience was not nearly non-existent back then. Figuring we deserved a nice view while eating our hard-earned chicken tenders, I asked for a table by the window. Confused but smiling, she walked us to our table and left us with our menus.
The next person to inquire about our parents was our server, this time a young man who was probably the age that I am now. He stared in awe as we recited our orders perfectly, having had plenty of time to practice on the walk over. Now did we hesitate at the prospect of deciding between lemonade or milk as our drink. But when the cups hit the table only moments later, the hands that held them had become female, and so a new waitress took our food order. She giggled as she wrote it down, coming back to casually slide us each a pair of those rare, unbroken red and green crayons as we found our way through the mazes on the backs of our menus. We would have thanked her for them but by the time we got our food, hers was replaced by yet another new face who told us to enjoy our food. And then another when my cousin needed more BBQ sauce, and another when we decided to treat ourselves to a mouthwatering “cup of dirt.”
By the time we had gotten our check, I’ve no doubt that we’d met every single person working at the TGI Friday’s during that Friday morning shift. As I think back on it now, I doubt the $5 tip, which seemed so generous at the time, was enough to split between the 10 of them. The hostess waved at us pleasantly as we made our way out the door, urging us to come back soon. Although we didn’t think to look back as we made our way toward the dollar store, I’m sure that the window was filled with the faces of the men and women who had, as a team, served us our lunch that day. I can only imagine their smiles as they watched the very same children who wrote ‘thank you’ on the receipt in red crayon begin the long trek home with their pockets full of candy.
A lot has changed since then. Mainly, my cousin and I now drive to the restaurants we decide to frequent. Instead of milk, we are both legally allowed to order from the adult drinks menu. And the mazes, which you won’t find on the backs of our menus anymore, are nowhere near as hard. Yet as much as things change and we all continue to grow up, there are a lot of things that haven’t. My love for Friday’s, which burns eternally since that day, for one. And for another, the love and connection I have with my non-blood but so-much-more-than-family cousin Ethan, his sister and brother, and their parents. It was a fateful day that my mother met his that day in some store and the two sparked a connection. Without it, I wouldn’t have the loving relationships and heart-warming stories that I can look back on whenever I start to feel down. And I know that, whatever paths and avenues we choose to follow that might separate us, the love and connection we feel with each other will only create more wonderful memories to come. So raise your cups with me, be them milk or lemonade, to make a toast: to the past and to the future, come what may, at least we’ll always have each other.