Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Dining on Memories

This French Restaurant was right across the street from my childhood home.

From Minnesota to New Jersey and back in an evening! I’m going to let you in on a personal conversation.
by Charlie Leck

Fred, a classmate from high school days, is visiting us right now. We are trying to show him the lovely side of Minnesota. He keeps talking about the mosquitoes – something Minnesotans have learned to ignore and survive. We keep talking about the wonderful, cool temperatures and the refreshing breezes that blow in off the lake. He keeps returning to yesteryear and the area in New Jersey where we grew up as kids. Last night we dined at one of my favorite restaurants in our area – a comfortable place called The Bluepoint. Even though there is no “r” in the month’s name, we started off with a platter of oysters – Bluepoints and some others from Prince Edward Island. How remarkably different the flavors were.

Another local friend and fellow blogger, Sam Stern, joined us for dinner. Sam writes Prairie Ponderings. Fred reads his blog and had suggested he’d like to meet him. Sam and I were reminiscing about the place where we were beginning dinner with a drink and remembering that it first opened as a really fine French restaurant. Fred countered by taking me back to my home town in New Jersey.

“You know, Charlie,” he said (Fred always, somehow, gets a ‘w’ inserted in the pronunciation of my name, like ‘Chawrlie). Anyway, he was off on a story about my home town.

“Chawrlie, the first French restaurant I ever ate in was in your little town of Chester. My parents took me there when I was a little kid. Oh, it was wonderful. Do you remember what it was called?”

It was a challenged thrown at me by Fred. He’s always doing that. He likes to stump me. He tried to get me by asking if I knew who Hunter Thompson was. My goodness, who wouldn’t know about Thompson and his novel, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, and the Gonzo journalism movement.

“Sure I remember, Freddy. It was the Auburge Provençale,” I told him.

I tried to think of the name of the owners, a husband and wife. His name was Pierre, I think. They were lovely and very French people. They stopped in our store, which was immediately across the street from their restaurant, to buy the newspapers from New York City. Sometimes they’d sit and have a cup of coffee. They liked a hot roast beef sandwich that my mother served occasionally and, if it was available on the days when they were closed up, they’d order it and chat with my parents as they munched away. The sandwich was made with very rare, paper thin slices of roast beef that were piled on a bun and smothered with dark, rich gravy. A pile of potato chips was served on the side.

I never ate in their expensive restaurant. We didn’t spend money that way – at least on children who wouldn’t appreciate it anyway.

Fred, though, was unusual, or strange. He matured more quickly than all of us in that class at high school. He had plenty of experience. His parents were people of the world and traveled often to “the shore” or into “the city.”

Though Freddy grew up only 9 miles away from my home town, it was like a different world. While we were a small, very rural and nearly a farm town, Fred was surrounded by people who worked in business and education and often computed into big communities like Morristown or Dover.

The more we talked about our young lives – those grade school years before we even met each other – the more we discovered similarities. The fact that he was from a Jewish home and I from a Protestant Christian home really didn’t seem to make much of a difference.

We chatted about how hard our respective fathers worked and how few men can work at that level these days. Fred’s dad had a grocery store and he would rise before the sun every day and drive from Succasunna all the way to Newark to buy fresh produce for his store. Once the van was loaded, he’d make the trip back in time for “opening.”

We talked, too, about childhood friends and he mentioned how much he liked my blog about Toby and I. He described the closeness of his friendship with Nick. They’d grown up as friends from a very young age and remain strong friends today. In all that time they’d only ever had one disagreement.

“It was a real estate matter,” Fred said. “We owned a pup tent together and there was some major disagreement about something – like who would keep it or something – and we couldn’t resolve it. I finally had to sell out my shares to him.”

My wife seemed vaguely interested in our reminiscences, but I’m betting poor Sam was bored stiff. He put up with it, however, and enjoyed his Oysters Rockefeller and then a nice platter of fish.

On and on we went, each with his own childhood stories. Sam was allowed in when the topic turned to living as a Jew in a Christian environment. Fred talked about classrooms where the Lord ’s Prayer was said. That’s not exactly a comfortable thing for a Jewish boy. It continues, as Sam pointed out, even to this day. He’s a Rotarian. Prayers at meetings are often concluded with a mention of Jesus. I’ve experienced the same thing at clubs and associations to which I’ve belonged. Such insensitivity has always disturbed me, but if one tries to explain it to a “born again Christian” one gets nowhere.

There was another bad automobile accident just up the road from where we live. Four people were killed yesterday when their SUV collided head on with a huge dump truck. Something happened in that vehicle to distract the driver. Police are investigating. It was a big part of our dinner time conversation. Two weeks ago two motorcycles collided head-on just within a mile of the same spot. One of them pulled out to pass a car. Both of the cyclers died.

Pay attention when you drive, we warned one another. Don’t let yourself get distracted by cell phones, dogs in the car or routine conversation. Driving a car is serious stuff and you’ve a big responsibility when you have passengers.

I’ve allowed you in, for just a few moments, to one of my personal conversations. If you think there’s nothing to learn from it, you weren’t listening carefully.

Fred, in a contemplative moment!

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