The Omaha steakhouse Gorat’s has been the scene of at least one good time for almost every Omahan for three-quarters of a century. Its melt-in-the-mouth beef, kitschy décor and salt-of-the-earth waitresses make it “the” place to take out of town guests who want that Omaha steakhouse experience.
One unforgettable night at Gorat’s, some Omahans proved that our international reputation for being “Nebraska Nice” is absolutely true.
It was many years ago. I was working as a reporter for the local newspaper, and my Beloved was a junior captain of industry. Between our two paychecks, we were doing OK. In fact, we had just purchased a house and were fixing it up. And we were starting our family. I was, as they used to say, “in the family way.”
Bigtime! I mean, literally bigtime. I was nearly 11 months pregnant. My nicknames included “Pregopotamus” and “Hugette.” My belly would come into a room several minutes before the rest of me. I could balance a glass of water on the shelf of that big belly. For party entertainment, people would poke my swollen lower legs and lay bets on how long it took for the dent to disappear.
See, my legs and feet had swollen up like Macy’s Parade balloons. I had outgrown my regular shoes, and had bought a pair at a dollar store just to tide me over. These cheap shoes had already started to split, and the foam was coming out. They looked terrible, but oh, well.
It was June, and I had one lightweight maternity dress that I wore over and over in the heat and humidity. I was really sick of it. It was no doubt beginning to fray and I think there was a rip in the seam, but I didn’t care because as soon as I had that baby, I WAS GOING TO BURN THAT SUCKER!!!!!
Well, one evening after both of us had worked late, we decided on the phone to meet at Gorat’s for a special Friday night dinner. By the time we got there, the dining room was packed.
I don’t remember people gasping as my big belly came into the room, followed gradually by the rest of me. But I probably was fairly conspicuous. The fraying dress and cheap shoes were out of place. I think we sat right in the middle of the restaurant, with my chair a good two feet from the table’s edge because of my mountainous baby bump. I don’t remember what we ordered or anything about the meal.
Except that, when we were finished and had the bill in front of us, we realized that WE DIDN’T HAVE ENOUGH MONEY ON US TO PAY THE CHECK!
I thought he would have his wallet with cash and credit cards, as he does 99.9999% of the time. He was thinking the same thing about me. I had my purse, with 102 important essentials for my day, but for some reason, not my billfold.
We had plenty of money to pay the check . . . just not right there, that night.
Whoops! With my belly, there was no way we could sneak out and stiff ‘em on the check. We would never do that, anyway. But how to get out of this? My feet hurt too much for me to have to wash dishes. And my Beloved was ‘way too proud to try to talk his way into a free meal.
So, we began a fervent campaign to find enough money. Eureka! He found a few dollar bills folded in his pocket!
Voila! I found some more in the “emergency” compartment of my purse!
I ever-so-gingerly bent over to the side and picked up my briefcase from the floor. Ah ha! At the bottom, here was a bunch of change. I counted it all out. Hooray! We covered the dinner bill, with about 42 cents to spare for the tip. Not enough. But ohhh, wellll. We resolved to leave a huge tip next time we came in.
The waitress returned. We counted out our change and dollar bills for the total. It filled up her hands. She smiled at us with the most caring, beneficent smile I have ever seen. She left to deposit it with the cashier.
She came right back with seven or eight plastic sacks in her arms. She put them down on the table in front of me.
“The other diners wanted to give you their doggie bags. There’s a lot of good steak here. You can eat for a week!”
We looked around. All of the other diners were smiling and waving at us. Oh, no! They thought we were POOR because of my cheap get-up, and because we had been searching our pockets for change to pay the dinner bill. They thought we were STARVING! Little did they know that the poor, malnourished baby would be born a few days later weighing over 10 pounds. Amply nourished, I’d say.
Out of concern for our well-being, as we were searching for coins to pay the bill, the waitress had gone around and begged everybody’s doggie bag for us. It was an outpouring of “flash charity” for the poor Pregopotamus and the soon-to-be first-time father.
Isn’t that sweet?
It would’ve been wrong to insist on returning all the bags. By then, how could they tell whose was whose? And we wanted that waitress to think that she had done a special good deed for two people in need.
Which, in a way, she had. No wonder she misunderstood our financial state: one look at my $1 shoes, and anybody would think the wolf was at our door.
So we went along with the gag. We smiled and waved back at the diners, blowing them kisses, letting them pat my belly (people ALWAYS want to pat a Pregopotamus’s belly!), and saying we might name the baby Gorat (thank goodness we thought better on that one!).
We left the restaurant with our arms heavy-laden with fantastic, corn-fed Nebraska beef, and our spirits uplifted, encouraged and reassured.
This is, indeed, a wonderful world into which to bring a child. People do care about one another – even strangers they’ll never see again. If there’s a way that people can find to help, they will. We’re all “in a family way” together.
There are many other cities and many other restaurants around the world that have more “sizzle.” But here in Omaha, at good old Gorat’s, we’ve got “steak.” †
(F)reely ye have received, freely give.
— Matthew 10:8b
By Susan Darst Williams | RadiantBeams.org | Excerpted from the book, “Radiant Beams” | © 2016