Lunch with Marjorie: This Miss won’t miss life

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 doesn’t love vegetables. She’s 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.

“You’re not a goat cheese person?” I teased.

“Noooo!” she giggled.

I sighed, knowing this meat and potatoes girl would always be slender.

“You’re 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 don’t have a lot of money saved, ” she answered.

Tab earns tuition as a server at a Rockford restaurant.

“Are people good tippers?”

“No, not really—some 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 don’t think you should get less than at least 15 percent. ’Cause if someone gives me less than 10 percent, it’s like an insult, like I did something to offend them, or I did something—it makes me feel like I didn’t 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 wouldn’t give up this career for anything.”

Challenges aren’t 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 column—a tiny, tiny tear that caused me to have headaches. They stopped the leaking. Spinal headaches are just horrible.”

“Hopefully, that’s behind you,” I said, admiring her courage.

“I’m probably always going to have migraines.”

“Are you feeling like you’re behind?”

“So many people are switching majors, still in their sophomore year at my age. More people just aren’t sure what they want to do.”

Tab isn’t ambivalent.

“I really want to work with little kids up to the time they are teen-agers—kids that have dealt with domestic violence, as well as battered women. I (want to) support and understand them—not judging them. Teaching them how to be strong, and how to make it, and that it’s OK, and what happened to them doesn’t make them any less of a person.”

“Is your pizza good?” I diverged.

“The crust’s a little tough. It’s homemade sauce—very, very good.”

“Has studying social work made you see things you didn’t see before—at your restaurant? Do you see abusers?” I was curious.

“When you have a guy and girl sit down at the table, you’re like, ‘Hey, how’s it going?’ and she just looks down at her plate. I’ll say, ‘Can I bring you something to drink?’ I’ll try to make eye contact, she won’t look at me, and he’ll order everything for her, and you can tell she’s kind of hesitant to say anything, and she’s scared. I just want to pull her aside. You can’t do that, because if you say anything to her, he’s going to get irate, and she’s the one who’s going to have to deal with it when she gets home, and not you.”

“What motivates you to help?”

“’Cause I’ve been through bad situations, and I’ve come out, and I’ve survived them…and it’s made me a better, stronger person. You just have to get through it day by day. ‘Forget regret, your life is yours to miss.’”

“That’s from the musical, RENT?”

She nodded, smiling that I knew.

“If I think I’m going to regret something, I’m going to do something about it. I don’t like to live in regrets, because then you dwell on them so long that you’re 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.

One thought on “Lunch with Marjorie: This Miss won’t miss life

  • August 3, 2009 at 7:47 pm

    A good friend of mine is a former social worker (now a district prosecutor) who counciled foster kids and battered women. She dealt with some pretty heartbreaking cases. We have to admire the courage of these quiet, unknown heroes who have the compassion to become involved in the lives of people who have no ones else to turn to. Thank you Marjorie for reminding us that they are out there. We could all learn something from them.

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