On my way home from running errands this evening, I passed by a Bennigan’s. It was in an off the beaten path location—one that I think will ultimately prove to doom the restaurant’s viability in the area. Having thought all of the locations nationwide closed several years ago, I was shocked to see it. Not really taking it for granted, I went in there and ordered chicken tenders. Once inside, I was instantly reminded of the 1st and only other time I had ever been in a Bennigan’s. That brings me to this week’s moment in the Flashback Friday series: the lunch with Aunt Pearl.
How I first came across this moment? During my month-long leave in the United States during most of June and July 2009, I traveled to several places instead of just dropping in and relaxing in Birmingham. I visited Atlanta several times. I made my DC and New York debuts. I went to Los Angeles and San Diego as well. I also dropped in on Chicago for the first time in almost 20 years. Being that I have family residing in nearby Gary, Indiana, I made the courtesy calls alerting them of my travel plans. My Aunt Pearl demanded that we have lunch. Notice I didn’t say she asked me if I wanted to have lunch. It was literally an “AnJuan, we’re going to have lunch this Thursday at 11:30am…I’ll call you that morning and tell you where” conversation. I was very much grown at 24 but not grown enough to offer a rebuttal at that particular time. We ended up meeting at Bennigan’s on Michigan Avenue across from the Art Institute of Chicago. We enjoyed a very nice lunch, where we spent more time talking than eating.
What it meant to me then? The lunch meant a lot to me. It was the first time I had seen my aunt in 8 years. We had talked on the phone a few times and exchanged a few emails but actual face-to-face meetings were very few and far between because I was deep into my military thing and I wasn’t making trips to Birmingham regularly or even attending family events at various places in the Midwest and South. Truth be told, having escaped a likely death a few days earlier, it was a pleasant feeling to be around a familiar and calming face.
What it means to me now? It’s been 8 years since that lunch with my aunt in Chicago. It hasn’t been that long since I’ve seen her though. I saw her a couple of months back actually. We were in that Bennigan’s for well over 90 minutes eating and mostly talking. She dropped a lot of life nuggets on the 24-year-old version of myself that are starting to make a lot of sense to the 32-year-old version. It felt like I was talking to my late paternal grandmother, whom I had many talks with as a young boy before her passing in 1993. That particular Bennigan’s closed about 2 months later so there won’t be any repeats on my next go around in the Windy City. We’ll meet somewhere else and have conversations…like her really nice house in Gary, which I haven’t been in since 1991.