Wednesday, December 5, 2012

If It's Wednesday, This Must Be The Dairy Queen

Our apartment was tiny, had brown shag carpet, and neighbors who smoked little fragrant cigarettes and partied until 4am on weeknights.

Our parents were 45 minutes away, which didn't seem a long drive until we craved our mothers' cooking or needed to do laundry for free. One close friend lived about 20 minutes away, all other friends more like an hour. Life followed a routine: teach, stay late at school planning lessons and grading papers, drive home, attempt something out of a beginner cookbook, watch The X-Files reruns, microwave a personal pan pizza because a beginner cookbook plus a beginner cook often equals failure, and then collapse into bed somehow both overwhelmed and bored.

We were lonely, we were frequently homesick, we had career dissatisfaction, we were poor. We were not yet parents but no longer kids and learning that being newly wed isn't all giggles and roses.

And yet, when Jason and I look back, we fondly remember the Falmouth year as one of the simplest and happiest times of our lives. This is in no small part because of the Dairy Queen.

When your life follows a monotonous and tiring routine, and when you live in a town with only one main intersection, you have to find something to break things up. Something to look forward to. For us, that something was a Wednesday night dining out on chicken strip baskets with Texas toast and gravy, followed by Oreo Blizzards.

Did we gain weight? Of course we did. And yet it was a date night worth every pound.

I'd long known the glories of the Falmouth Dairy Queen. Before we lived there, I knew Falmouth very well because that happened to house my father's favorite substance abuse treatment center in the tri-state area. I don't blame him for this preference; it was a quiet, sleepy little town where life moved at a slower, less-stressful pace. And on release days when my mother and I could come visit and spring him from the facility for a few hours, we could go get the best restaurant cheeseburgers any of us had ever had. I don't know what a "brazier" is, but that DQ had one, and it was magical.

When we spent our first year as marrieds in that same town, Falmouth was still recovering from a devastating flood. Few businesses had opened back up; there was a Lee's Famous Recipe chicken place inside of the (not "a", but "the") gas station, and we have a strict rule to not eat food prepared inside gas stations. There was also a McDonald's. But that was it. No pizza deliveries, no dingy Chinese restaurant with questionable meat sources, no diner, drive-in, or dive.

The Dairy Queen filled our culinary needs on those evenings we needed to escape our 4-room apartment with a kitchen so small my rear-end dislocated the table every time I opened the oven door. We started stopping by every Wednesday as a way to get over the hump and survive the rest of the week. If we made it through Wednesday, we only had to prepare our own  dinner one more night before we could hit the road to bum food from our parents or haunt the Applebee's in Lexington with our friends.

Even on Wednesday, the Dairy Queen was hopping. When you're the only game in town, you get a lot of game. We were the youngest adults in the joint, but that was fine. Our food was prepared by older ladies who had been there for decades, and our orders came out hot and greasy--the best way DQ food can possibly arrive at your table. TVs displayed the UK game, when it was on; Jeopardy when it wasn't. No one knew us, but that didn't stop the locals from being friendly and talkative just the same. It was a community that had recently been knocked on its ass, but was beginning to rebuild. They were fiercely proud of their Dairy Queen, run by the same man for many years, brought back to life quickly after the waters receded. It might technically have been a chain restaurant, but it felt like the corner drug stores and soda fountains of old--a place where the whole community could meet up, grab a treat, and talk about the weather and the grand state of UK basketball. (Did I mention this was 1998?)

Wednesday nights out died the next year when we found ourselves even poorer and relocated to Lexington where we both were taking time off teaching (for Jason, this was a permanent hiatus) to further our educations and pave new career paths. Besides, the Dairy Queen close to our apartment sucked, and proved to only be good for an occasional poorly-blended Blizzard. It's a tradition I miss to this day, when Wednesday nights have become so hectic that dinner is usually a rushed affair worked around piano lessons, homework, and errands. How nice would it be to have a weeknight family date to a place where, if everyone doesn't know your name, they at least care enough to fry your chicken fingers and fries when you order and not invest in holding trays and heat lamps?

I think I could even do without the Texas toast and gravy. Because I am much more health-conscious now. And because I would still want the Oreo Blizzard for dessert.

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