I’ve noticed how Waffle House is a thing here in Atlanta. Granted it’s from Atlanta, but still, its popularity surprised me when I first made the move (maybe because the one in Savannah had a serial killer vibe and a what seemed like a call girl call center in the parking lot). Clifford told me Waffle House was a high school hang out for him back in the day. A late night place to go for greasy food fast, sobering up any alcohol addled brain that wandered through its double doors. For me, IHOP was the It Spot in college and Hacienda was the place to be in high school. Regardless the exact chain, local eatery or bar, one always seems to unintentionally seek and find their own St. Elmo’s wherever they are.
Waffle House is not exactly St. Elmo’s for Clifford and me. The man just really likes breakfast and apparently waffles. That said, it has become “our place”. Which is weird and slightly sad that “our place” is Waffle House and not like Ruth’s Chris. But hey, 5 bucks a person is different than 50 bucks a person, so Waffle House as “Our Place” it is. Here’s the crux, it’s really about our time together there, to catch up on each other’s week, make fun of things we find ridiculous, and gossip about the people in our lives (sorry people in our lives) because we often have opposite widely ranging schedules. It’s not about the giant chocolate chip waffles being served (although for Clifford I think it might kinda be about the giant chocolate chip waffles being served …).
Regardless, it’s a moment where I get to slow things down, no TV, no Twitter, no emails, and just enjoy my husband’s company for 45 minutes straight. It’s where I get a chance to rediscover the little things. Like how he has one green eye and one brown. How frustrated he gets when people don’t understand the difference between cement and concrete. How his South African A’s are sounding more and more Midwestern these days. How fish is a side dish, not a main meal. His teary eyed soap box about how wrong and repulsive Americans’ love for sweet and meat is as I pour maple syrup on my bacon once again.
I also take stock of the qualities I never noticed before, after all these years, often times adding much clarity to our relationship and reaffirming the love I have for this man. Such as I did on this day a while back.
I rarely order waffles at Waffle House. Clifford will tell you that my eyes are bigger than my stomach. I sit down and contemplate a waffle every time, yet seldom actually order one. And every time, this exact conversation is had:
Me: I’m SO hungry. I think I might get a waffle this time.
Cliff: Don’t get a waffle. You don’t really want a waffle. You just think you do.
Me: Not true! I think I really want a waffle today.
Cliff: No. You’ll order the waffle and eat half of the waffle then complain the entire day about how sick you are because of it. Don’t get a waffle.
He’s right. This happens every time. And even though I’m well aware of this, sometimes a Waffle House waffle just needs to be ordered and eaten (even if partially so). I ordered a waffle on that day. This is what hit me. The way Clifford and I each approach eating our waffles is the way we each approach living our lives.
I order a plain waffle, a clean slate that needs my personal touch to make it truly great. My plate is set before me and without hesitation I begin. I throw as much butter at it as I can, then I pour the syrup. I’m not a huge syrup lover actually, so I go a little light on that, but I do “draw” faces with it as I pour because it makes me smile. Sometimes I even laugh out loud at the funny faces I create. Clifford hates this. Then I start grabbing pieces of the center because it’s the best part! I’m actually tearing at the waffle not really cutting it. It’s aggressive. Next I mix in eating an edge because I still have to save a little bit of the best part for last. I throw in a swig of juice here or there. Halfway through, I haphazardly add more butter and more syrup before randomly, but enthusiastically, tearing off another piece of waffle to pop into my mouth. The waffle is loved, but messy. It’s a messy love. It’s chaos, but it works for me.
Clifford orders a chocolate chip waffle. His plate is set before him and he immediately sets it aside. He will eat and drink everything else – the eggs, the bacon the smothered and covered hashbrowns, his two cups of coffee, anything and everything else placed before him is consumed but his waffle. Once he’s ready for it, he slides everything away and places his waffle neatly front and center. It is time for the waffle to have as much attention as the rest of his meal. Clifford smoothly and evenly spreads a touch of butter across the entire thing. He then carefully pours the syrup over his waffle in a clockwise motion creating a spiral from the crisp outer edges to the softer center. He does this twice. Then he picks up his knife and fork and begins methodically dissecting his waffle into precisely four equal parts. He then rotates his plate, picking one fourth and systematically dissects it into fourths as well. Finally he puts one perfectly cut (with a SUPER dull butter knife mind you) piece of waffle into his mouth. After one larger fourth has been eaten, he rotates his plate, moving onto the next and proceeds to dissect it into smaller fourths the same way he did with the first and so on and so on until his plate is clean. He never adds extra butter or syrup having anticipated just the right amount needed for his enjoyment, factoring in the waffle element absorption rate and level of sweetness to satisfaction ratio. It’s meticulous, but it works for him.
Watching him do this the other day, looking back and forth between our two plates, is when I had my epiphany. We are the way we eat. There’s no wrong, an approach is an approach, but the way Clifford and I eat is why we work so well together. We balance one another. When you’re someone who dives in head first, you need someone who carefully takes the steps instead to make sure you haven’t cracked your head on the bottom of the pool.
At least on that day, I couldn’t think of a clearer illustration.