The Petite Madeleine? Mais Non.
Last weekend, during Winter Break at my daughter’s high school, we made the radical choice to head midwestward ho! to visit my mother and brother in the land Time forgot, three hours south of Chicago. Just as I insist (and fail to prevail) that we not visit PacSun, Pink and Brandy Melville shops when we visit Paris, I attempted to mandate we avoid those, plus chain restaurants in the hinterlands. I might as well have championed a starvation diet. It was a revelation.
I had wanted her to see ‘authentic’ Midwestern fare and shop the local wares. My mother and brother refused to join us on the culinary Odyssey to Gil’s in Hanna City, whose charming positioning statement was and is, “To get a fresher piece of chicken, you’ve got to be a rooster.” This had seemed an extraordinary, electrifying place when I was a kid, enlivened by country western groups on Saturday nights and emboldened by music we choose from an ecumenical jukebox, spanning Sinatra, Streisand, the Beatles and Patsy Cline
Mattie was shocked that I had sought out this place: Cheesecloth tablecloths of various patterns, shining under bright florescent lights. To her, it frankly looked like the homeless shelter at our church where she volunteers some Friday nights: Men and women, seated at tables for four, clad almost universally in jeans and sweatshirts and shod in either cowboy boots or sneakers, surrounded by plastic boxes to pack-up what they didn’t eat in order to take it with them.
The same held true for clothes shopping: We visited the department store where we had loved to shop as kids, now transposed to a mall. Mattie took one look and said, “Yes, this seems like a place where Grammy would shop.” Indeed, it did. We explored the terrain, including the Going-Out-of-Business Macy’s and I won’t get started on that here, except to say, Terry, shame on you.
We found the best selection and service, finally, exactly where Mattie knew it would be: The Brandy Melville section of the PacSun store. We found the best dinner exactly where my brother said it would be: The Longhorn Steakhouse chain near their home. It is beginning to dawn on me that I’m going to have to admit the best chains have raised the bar, as I suppose they promised to. It was the better dinner, better lit, better looking. Guessing Time doesn’t forget.