Day 18 – This Feels So Normal

Needing to attend to the quotidian mysteries – in other words, the laundry – we accepted the invitation to use the facilities at our hosts’ home. We started a load in the washer and picked up Randy’s sister to go to breakfast at the recommended spot: Benny’s Place.

Located in a nearby neighborhood, we found the parking lot full when we arrived. Always a good sign at an eating establishment. Indeed, the little restaurant itself was full as well. We couldn’t be seated right away, but we found the wait was well worth it. We ate and talked and laughed; remembered and shared stories; this brother and sister together again for only the second time in their lives.

Ancestors, family trees and computer programs entertained some of us, while others of us folded laundry, packed the car and took a walk around the neighborhood. While the first day of Fall, Chicago reached 93 degrees and felt like mid summer. Yet, the trees are turning, giving warning of chilly winds soon to come.

When the remainder of the family gathered after work: nieces and nephews and their children, the real fun began. Last night there had been a challenge to us “out of towners” to taste test the three top choices of Chicago’s Deep Dish Pizzas and select the best of the best. Three different pizzas arrived at the house. We had to avert our eyes so as not to see any boxes or toppings that might give away information that would make one more recognizable than another. We knew nothing. Even the slightest bit of information would not have swayed us. We were ready for the test! We were given a small slice of each brand of pizza. We tasted. We tested. We enjoyed. And, we tasted some more. The whole family waited for our response. Finally, they could wait no longer and requested we make a decision.

The results: Randy ranked his first choice as Giordano’s; second choice as Gino’s East; and third choice as Lou Malnati’s. I ranked my first choice as Lou Malnati’s; second choice as Gino’s East; and third choice as Giordano’s. ┬áThere were comments and laughter throughout our testing. Randy had to conclude that statistically, they all averaged the same if our results were combined. Then, as we continued to relish this regional delight, Randy changed his mind and agreed with MY first choice. But, we both concluded, all of them were worthy of eating and enjoying; nothing could be rejected, and nothing would be wasted!

As dessert was brought out we were commenting on what a wonderful “reunion” this has been, although it can hardly be considered a reunion as we had never met anyone before yesterday, save Randy’s sister. Reflecting on the evening Randy commented,”This feels so normal.” And, we all laughed. Whatever normal is, this is certainly it! What a grace to feel so close to people we had only met yesterday.

Dessert was another unique Chicago treat that we had never heard of: “Nothing Bundt Cake” Our hostess couldn’t decide what flavor to select for our dinner, so she asked for “one of each” in the mini size, and planned to divide them so we each could have taste tests of a variety flavors. They were extraordinary! Look out Seattle. Chicago has you beat on deep dish pizza AND delicious, tasty, flavorful bundt cakes.

Truly, whatever normal is – this is it! Loving, accepting, gracious, hospitable, filled with humor, laced with stories, wrapped in laughter and sealed with hugs. That’s how we felt during the great pizza tasting contest at Randy’s sister’s daughter’s house in Chicago tonight. It just feels normal. And full of grace.