I love pizza. True, there are healthier things to eat or, I suppose, you could eat just one slice with a generous serving of kale on the side.
My love affair goes back to a hole-in-the-wall place called, Freddie’s, in the town of Wheaton, Illinois. It sat just down the street from the dorm Jud called home for his first two years at Wheaton College.
Jud and I’d met working in the college kitchen during our Freshman year. Neither of us came from money, unless spare change counts. So, in our Sophomore year, Freddie’s was where he took me for our first date, unless you count going to a Billy Graham meeting together, a couple of weeks earlier. (Did some of you just roll your eyes?)
Growing up in the South, I knew a lot about friend chicken, grits, okra, country ham and sweet tea but nothing about pizza. I’d never had veal cutlets before, either, which we served too often in the cafeteria. Most of them could’ve been fired as weapons.
Freddie’s felt just right for a first date. No need to wear my hairnet or apron, requirements when working behind the college cafeteria line, nor study up on proper manners. I knew the basics.
Jud and I had a lot in common as two preacher’s kids. We both needed to work, were the eldest in our families and practiced at being responsible for more than just ourselves.
When the pizza showed up, we clinked our cokes together, then wrestled free our first slice of pepperoni pizza, still my favorite. As Jud bit down, I heard another clink. We both looked down to discover a tooth on his plate. It turned out to be his front left tooth.
Jud shrugged, calmly picked up the tooth, dropped it into his pocket like some regular mealtime occurrence, then flashed me one of those smiles that kept me coming back for more than pizza for another fifty-five years.
Over pizza, I learned he’d broken the tooth in eighth grade while playing hockey and crack -the -whip. Jud’d put up with the stub until his folks could afford to get a replacement a few years later. The capped tooth held until Freddie’s pizza loosened it and sent it free-falling along with my heart.
OK, so those last four words read like the ending of a Hallmark movie, which I sometimes crave over reality. Then again, I never dreamed my happily- ever- after would show up with a dose of reality one night at Freddie’s, when a young man dared to laugh at himself, after plunking down more than cash, then smile at me with one tooth missing, but nothing else that really mattered.
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