I came up with a good one planning the brunch with my terrific daughter Elisabeth and her marvelous boyfriend George Three to put another party on my dear wife Karen’s Birthday Week festivities.
We texted back and forth about the fact that the gift Elisabeth had carefully chosen apparently was stalled in a UPS warehouse in East Syracuse, according to online tracking. Karen was cool about this delay while Elisabeth was impatient. And then I picked for our get-together the Cracker Barrel in Brewerton, N.Y., just off I81 and the busy boulevard of Route 31.
Elisabeth agreed. She’d never been to the cozy Southern-influenced franchise, here or anywhere else.
I knew we’d have to wait a bit for our table on a late Sunday morning. This isn’t the kind of spot that takes reservations. But it is the kind of place where roaming the aisles to peruse all that stuff will open the eyes of any first-time.
We pulled in to find George Three walking from a spot near us way back in the parking lot. He’d dropped Elisabeth up front to go inside and tell the hostess we’d need a table of four. He’d been to a Cracker Barrel a time or two, he told us.
A 15-minute wait flew past in the busy store as Elisabeth’s eyes were opened by the clothes and candles and VHS tapes and decorative doo-dads that make Cracker Barrel what it is. Oh, yeah, then there’s the nostalgic food and candy. Moon Pies, anyone?
The hostess called out, “George, party of four,” and inside the bustling dining room we were led.
We all ordered off the breakfast menu, happily. Elisabeth picked the sugared ham as a side while George Three went for the country ham. I would have gone for the crispy, salty southern pig specialty of the two, along with George. But I ordered the thick-cut bacon to go with my over-easy eggs and pancakes. When the food arrived, Elisabeth experienced grits for the first time. She agreed with my comparison to oatmeal.
During our catch-up conversation, George nudged Elisabeth and said, “Did you tell them about …” Elisabeth shook her head no and interjected, “Let me start with the fact that everybody is OK.”
That got my curiosity and nerves going, both.
A few weeks ago, while all were sleeping in his parents’ house, an electrical fire started in the garage. Mom Susan sensed something was amiss first. She heard the garage door going up and down by itself. The smoke was coming into the house when everybody rushed outside and the fire department was called.
George Three grabbed the garden house and attempted to beat down the flames before the fire fighters arrived. One volunteer pulled up before the trucks and took the hose from him to go at it.
Then came many firefighters to put it out.
The good news: The fire did not spread into the house. And everybody was OK, even the dog who wandered back inside after Elisabeth led her out to the backyard.
The bad news: Susan’s care was totaled, with much of the innards melted from the heat. And everything inside the house needed to be cleaned of the smoke smell.
What a lesson for preparedness, I thought. George Three asked if we have a smoke detector in the Little Bitty. We do. His mom woke up even before their’s went off, he said.
Stress for the Venditti family. I commiserated. The insurance company and dealer are haggling about what to do with that new car that Susan is leasing.
We went back to our plate of communal biscuits thankful for our blessings. I said all six of us must plan a trip to see a Syracuse Crunch hockey game soon. Our American Hockey League squad is off to a 2-0 start for the season. We agreed it will be easier for all to go before this year’s bring-your-pooch night, and laughed about all the attention heaped upon our attentive Ellie B aka Dogamous Pyle last season as she sat in a seat between Karen and I.
They went off to visit a pet store to play with puppies. We headed to the Wegmans for weekly food shopping. It was a good Birthday Week visit for sure.
Hover over any gallery photo for a description. Click on the bottom right photo in any gallery for an enlarged slide show.
A day later, UPS delivered the present from Elisabeth and George Three. Karen was delighted with her two new charms, perfect to add to the bracelet the kids had purchased her as a thank you during this summer’s Family Reunion trip to Colorado. And I got to happily text my daughter the photos to show it.
Do you enjoy visiting a Cracker Barrel restaurant, and why or why not? Have you had to live through a home fire, and if so, what happened? Have you had a gift hung up in the delivery process, and if so, how did you resolve the issue and how long did it take?