Revised & Re-published May 24th.
As I tell the stories I know about our little town and the people who live here, I sometimes forget that there are stories under the stories, things I just know and accept but perhaps should explain a little. We can all learn a little from history, whoever’s history we’re talking about. So I’ll start with what has always been the centre of my universe – the Rose café, Daddy’s café.
Actually, it’s not Daddy’s café any more. And, come to think of it, which I don’t very often, Daddy’s not actually my father, but telling that story is part of telling the story about the café. The name on the door and all the menus is The Rose Café. We’ve got roses everywhere – pictures of roses on most of the walls, rather pretty silk roses in the vases on the tables and in the ladies’ room (the ones we tried to keep in the men’s room disappeared about 12 seconds after they went in there), even roses on our names tags, although I don’t know where mine is right now.
Sometimes, when people are new to town they’ll ask where Daddy came up with the name, was it for me or his wife or maybe his mother? He always laughs and says that first of all he didn’t think there was much relationship between me and a rose and none of my names come from the garden. Second, he wasn’t married so there was no marital connection. Third, and this one always makes him laugh, he says if he was going to name the place after his mother, he’d have to call it Stinkweed, and that wasn’t a very good name for a café now, was it?
The Rose Café was the name of the place when my mother bought it from Augie Burns, and she kind of liked it so it stuck.
I think sometimes the name was the last thing about the café that my mother liked. I do not know why she thought owning a café would be a good thing for her, but it wasn’t a good idea, and it was even worse in execution.
Oh, she was really good at the part where she’d welcome people to the place, make them feel at home, like they could just sit and chat all day over a cup of coffee and maybe a little pie. But she was definitely not good at the paperwork and the supply ordering, and while she was real lucky in finding a couple of people to work for her, like Mrs Busy and Ralphie who started as a dish washer when he was 12, mostly her hiring and firing were real train wrecks. She got took by more people more times in that first year she had the place than we ever did figure out.
That’s where Daddy comes in, literally comes in to the café about 9:30 one night, when the coffee’s been sitting on the hot plate a little too long and Ralphie’s cleaned the grill for the last time, and looks around. Daddy says back then there was still rose wallpaper on the inside wall where you hang your coats in bad weather, but this was a clear, mild night so when my mother looked up from all the receipts she was trying to organize, her head was surrounded by what seemed like hundreds of faded red roses. Daddy says she was so pretty looking, with all those flowers around a head of curly brown hair, he was just naturally attracted to her.
And then she burst into tears.
Now I of course do not remember this, and I have to say that what I know of my mother from that time, it seems to me most unlikely that a man just walking into the café – even a very handsome man, with big green eyes and a deep voice that sounded like you think velvet might sound – would make her cry.
It could have happened I suppose, but I believe it’s more that Daddy wants to believe, wants me to believe, that he was her knight in shining armour, at least for that one evening.
Anyway, Daddy says that this is where my mother tried to make him go away, telling him the café was closed and the coffee was burnt and the cook wasn’t cooking nothing more tonight. But he told her he liked his coffee burnt, he was still full from a big meal earlier, and besides the sign on the door said OPEN, so here he was and what was she going to do about it. And also, he says, he asked her why she was crying.
I know, from lots of personal experience, especially as a particularly stubborn child, when Daddy turns his voice down and that velvet sound sort of covers your whole mind, you will tell him just about anything, so this next part of his story I do believe. He says they wound up sitting at that little table in a closed café for several hours, ‘til well past midnight. They drank that burnt coffee and then another pot more, pouring over the receipts and the books, doing an inventory of the supplies in the back room, and checking out the leak in the kitchen sink. And by the next morning, there was a new man running the cash register.
It wasn’t just the café. Daddy fit into our lives as well. He and my mother were a couple from that very first night, and I made them a family. Just like he took over running the café, he took over running my life. He was the one who made sure I was dressed in clean clothes every day and was given a bath every night. He was a master story-teller and game player, always made up completely out of his head and never a book or box. As I grew up, he taught me how to make coffee and martinis with equal skill, how to clean shoes and the oven so that both shone, how to buy food in bulk and serve it with grace and fun. He never refers to me as anything other than his daughter, and I have never thought of him as any other than my father.
What he gave us, the family life he created, the hard work he put into the café, the little touches of romance he gave my mother, I believe all these things helped my mother stick around a little longer than she probably would have. There was something real between them I think, and I know Daddy did love her then. I know she liked him a lot, maybe even loved him a little, so staying and trying to be a family, to run the café, wasn’t so hard. Daddy is a sweet, kind man and he made my mother a better, kinder person that maybe she really was. Certainly he knew how to run that business, which picked up and grew from the night he showed up. Two years later, when she finally did break loose, she was able to take nearly ten thousand dollars with her, money that the café had earned, that Daddy had put away for purposes other than my mother’s road trip.
What she didn’t take was me.
There I was, five years old, head full of brown curls just like my mother, but with a temperament that’s much more like Daddy’s. Which is interesting because, as you may have noticed, I was five when she left, and he’d only been in town two years or so.
In her entire lifetime, my mother was married three or four times. She was never sure she could count my father as a real husband because, although they did go through with a marriage ceremony, as it turns out, she was not divorced from her first husband when she married the second, whom she married only because she was pregnant with me.
The divorce from husband number 1 came through about a month before husband number two – my biological father – was killed in a truck accident that also saw a crate full of chickens turned into hash on the highway. As it turns out, that was a most fortuitous thing, because it meant she didn’t have any trouble collecting the insurance money he left her, with which she bought a second-hand Thunderbird, a little cosmetic surgery, and the clothes to show ‘em both off.
She also bought The Rose Café.
I got a doll.
I don’t know why she and Daddy didn’t get married. She never shied away from the ceremonies obviously, but maybe Daddy had stronger feelings that she did about what happens after the wedding itself. So somehow the ‘I do’s’ never happened, which made it difficult when she left and the family services people wanted to take me away. For my own good of course, which is what they always say when they’re breaking some kid’s heart.
Family services said it was inappropriate for a single man to whom I was not related in any way to raise a little girl and I needed to be put into foster care where I would have a “real” family. I was mad, and I was unhappy, and I was completely unco-operative with all the foster families they tried to place me with. Those poor people, I think now, especially when I see any of them, on the street or even in the café. It certainly wasn’t their fault that this was happening, and they probably weren’t all as stupid as my social worker who kept calling me ‘Dearie’ and saying I was too young to understand what was best for me.
But I did understand. Best was Daddy and the café, so I did my best to make everyone else understand that, too. However kind and well-intentioned they might have been, my foster parents quickly tired of the dirty, squalling, bed wetting, no talking, no bathing, no hair combing idiot I appeared to be. Of course, the moment family services would let Daddy have me for a day or two I stopped wetting the bed and yelling and willingly climbed back into a hot bath and shampoo.
Things started back on track on a Thursday, late on a Thursday night in fact. I know it was Thursday because Friday is fish special day at the café and Daddy had been cleaning trout all evening. She walked in on a cloud of some perfume that Daddy says overwhelmed even the fish odour. She told him that she’d heard there were problems with me misbehaving all over town, and he told her no, there were problems because of her leaving me and not leaving a note or something to say he could take care of me.
I have asked Daddy several times what happened, exactly what happened that night between the two of them but he’s always been a little reticent with details. I know she decided to stay around for a few days, in the apartment over the cafe with us. I know she went to see Ed King and then they went to family services, and at some point she also sashayed into the Mane House with all the aplomb of a mega movie star and started as much gossip behind her as was shared with her. And I know that when she tried to talk to me, I would have nothing to do with any happy family, mother-daughter chat.
There’s something inside me that feels a little sad about that now. I would like to have more memories and better stories to tell of my mother, and I think we could have had that if both of us hadn’t given up pretty much just because of the petulance of a five-year old. But if I start to dwell on that, I remember everything Daddy’s done for me and I think I’m pretty lucky to have this parent who has been there for me all my remembered life. When I remember that, everything else seems much simpler.
Of course, I also remember that when my mother did, inevitably, leave again, that time was after she had transferred title of the café to Daddy’s name, and named him my legal guardian until my eighteenth birthday or her permanent return to town, whichever came first, and I think that makes her a pretty good parent, too.
It was the summer after high school graduation and before my eighteenth birthday, when my life changed again. That was the summer Daddy started falling down. It began with dizzy spells and weakness in his legs and fuzziness in his vision, and it wound up with a diagnosis of multiple sclerosis. I was so scared at first. I mean his symptoms were awful, and then you find out what caused them, and you wonder if you’re going to lose this father too, the third parent you’ve been lucky enough to have, the only one you’ve got left.
Only, as it turns out, getting MS was maybe an overall life saver for Daddy, because he started to eat much better, and to exercise the way his physiotherapist showed him he could, and even though he sometime has to get into a wheelchair to get around more easily, he still has all the brain power anyone needs to succeed in business.
Still, the whole affair with my mother, from meeting her and living with her and me, to then just leaving, with no preparation or planning for the people she was leaving behind, always stuck with Daddy. So when he became ill, he wrote a will and made other changes, not the least of which was putting the café in my name. He said he didn’t want me to lose the chance to earn my own keep, on my own terms, just because he’d done something stupid, like die from MS or bad oysters or whatever.
So, when you come to The Rose Café, you’ll just think you’re coming to Mac’s place. You’ll never see the effort it takes him to get around, to get down to work some days, because he just doesn’t talk about the MS. If you know about it, you might stop to think that this is a pretty brave guy to keep on even with a such a tough throw of the dice. Maybe you’ll even think I’m pretty brave too, because I live with the fear in my heart that I’m going to lose him someday, someday sooner than other fathers maybe.
Just don’t talk to us about it. We’re alike in that way, Daddy and I. We don’t like talking about the tough stuff too much, stuff like MS and Darby and my mother. But we do have lots of stories to tell you about the café, those we’ll share with you just for the asking.