I've missed my small-town cafe. I hear it's coming back!
Many Americans have been missing their small-town cafes - the place where they could go early in the morning to sip on a hot cup of coffee and talk to their neighbors and friends. This was the place where one found out who died overnight, who had a new grandbaby, whose kid ran in the ditch last night and who was moving into the neighborhood.
Birthdays were celebrated, maybe even with the birthday song being sung by customers with a moaning, out-of-tune lilt.
My little cafe was no different. You could set your watch by the time some of the customers arrived. There was the very early bunch who met the owner at the back door at 4 a.m., there was the crew who showed up at 8 a.m. to start the day and there was the group who assembled at 10.
If anyone varied from any of their allotted time slots there was concern shown as to "what happened to them this morning?" It could be good and then again it could be bad.
Small-town cafes are the places where you might brag about the size of the walleye you caught yesterday. If you didn't actually bring the fish into the cafe to show, you might be looked at with suspicion.
I was sitting in my regular chair one morning a number of years ago when a local citizen strode into the place and dropped a frozen 20-pound northern pike on the table in front of our coffee cups.
"There, you doubters! That's what a real fish looks like!" he stated in no uncertain terms. No one ever doubted him again.
I was guiding a friend of mine a few years ago when he latched onto the largest walleye I ever had in my boat. The fish put up a valiant struggle and my friend was very lucky to bring it to the net. I didn't have a camera but a nearby boat floated over to us and asked to see the giant walleye.
They measured it at 32 inches long with almost 20-inch girth and their scale tipped at 10 1/2 pounds. They had no camera as well. (This was before cell phones!) My friend decided to release the giant fish back into the depths, both of us excited with the catch.
My friend and I ventured into the Cozy Cottage Cafe the next morning, eager to share our exciting experience with our coffee slurping friends. Not one of them believed us. My friend, Clarence, who always sat across the table from me, couldn't stop shaking his head sideways. Another friend let out a guffaw and asked us where the proof was?
No amount of explaining ever turned one opinion and they could just as well as called us liars, but there are things that are unsaid in small cafes lest they alienate a person from sticking his head in the door again.
Our morning waitress was an older lady with a heart of gold and a voice like gravel. She had long experience in dealing with we misfits who came into the cafe every morning. If you didn't want a straight answer, you didn't ask Tina. She would give it to you.
But, one morning one of my compatriots found out it was her birthday and he quietly stole out of the cafe and down to the local florist. The group had all chipped in and bought her a dozen red roses. When she was presented with her bouquet, Tina's hard exterior melted away before our very eyes and even the most crusty of my friends had a tear in his eye. Tina gave a hug to all.
You don't get that feeling in many other places.
This past year we've been missing things like that. There is hope on the horizon that we might be able to get back to that full bore in the coming months. It has been very tough on our small-town cafes and eating places. When the dam breaks, we'll be back at the table.
Even if that bunch of slurpers won't believe the size of the fish you told them about. What would be the fun in that?
See you next time. Okay? Stay safe!