I met Tabitha Wells six years ago. She was a fellow thespian with my daughter at Hononegah High School. She spent time hanging out at our house, so I know things about her: she loves steak and doesnt love vegetables. Shes quiet, responsible, respectful and determined for her life to make a difference.
Our Loves Park sandwich destination was closed, and I was surprised Tab took the lead, suggesting Basil Café across the street.
Soft jazz, white tablecloths, and a Mediterranean menu greeted us.
Perfect, I thought.
I ordered spanakopita, a goat cheese and spinach mixture in filo. Tab chose traditional pizza.
Youre not a goat cheese person? I teased.
Noooo! she giggled.
I sighed, knowing this meat and potatoes girl would always be slender.
Youre studying social work at Rock Valley College? I confirmed.
I decided to go to Rock Valley for two years. It would save a lot of money. I dont have a lot of money saved, she answered.
Tab earns tuition as a server at a Rockford restaurant.
Are people good tippers?
No, not reallysome are. As a server, you expect 20 percent. If you give good service, and you have their drinks refilled, and their food comes out, and there is nothing wrong with it, and you give them everything they need when they ask for it, I dont think you should get less than at least 15 percent. Cause if someone gives me less than 10 percent, its like an insult, like I did something to offend them, or I did somethingit makes me feel like I didnt give them good service.
Rock Valley, good choice? I asked.
They have really, really good teachers there, and they have really good programs, and they get you ready for a four-year, so, I like it.
Sounds like this is a lot about finances.
Does social work pay well? I asked.
Not so good, (but) I wouldnt give up this career for anything.
Challenges arent new to Tab. Besides working full time, she took a year off for medical reasons.
I had really bad headaches. There was a whole time when we were trying to figure out what it was. They misdiagnosed me a couple of times…then found I had torn something in my spinal columna tiny, tiny tear that caused me to have headaches. They stopped the leaking. Spinal headaches are just horrible.
Hopefully, thats behind you, I said, admiring her courage.
Im probably always going to have migraines.
Are you feeling like youre behind?
So many people are switching majors, still in their sophomore year at my age. More people just arent sure what they want to do.
Tab isnt ambivalent.
I really want to work with little kids up to the time they are teen-agerskids that have dealt with domestic violence, as well as battered women. I (want to) support and understand themnot judging them. Teaching them how to be strong, and how to make it, and that its OK, and what happened to them doesnt make them any less of a person.
Is your pizza good? I diverged.
The crusts a little tough. Its homemade saucevery, very good.
Has studying social work made you see things you didnt see beforeat your restaurant? Do you see abusers? I was curious.
When you have a guy and girl sit down at the table, youre like, Hey, hows it going? and she just looks down at her plate. Ill say, Can I bring you something to drink? Ill try to make eye contact, she wont look at me, and hell order everything for her, and you can tell shes kind of hesitant to say anything, and shes scared. I just want to pull her aside. You cant do that, because if you say anything to her, hes going to get irate, and shes the one whos going to have to deal with it when she gets home, and not you.
What motivates you to help?
Cause Ive been through bad situations, and Ive come out, and Ive survived them and its made me a better, stronger person. You just have to get through it day by day. Forget regret, your life is yours to miss.
Thats from the musical, RENT?
She nodded, smiling that I knew.
If I think Im going to regret something, Im going to do something about it. I dont like to live in regrets, because then you dwell on them so long that youre missing out on a lot of things.
Are you thinking dessert? I knew she was.
Turtle cheesecake won. Tab had a big slice. I tasted a corner. Yum! Lots of caramel.
Marjorie Stradinger is a free-lance writer residing in Roscoe. She has covered food, drama, entertainment, health, and business for publications in California and Illinois for the past 25 years.