Postcards

Be Back Soon ….

I got there early to try and grab a table ahead of the Sunday Church crowd, since we were expecting 10 or so.

But before going in I just had to check the wall outside.

Yep, still there.

Scrawled in green kids-menu crayon on the wall next to the steps, in my son’s eight-year-old hand.

Be Back Soon!

IMG_3279

I still remember giving Peter crap when he committed the act of vandalism so many years ago, during one of our family’s legendary long goodbyes on the back porch of Meloni’s Italian Restaurant. Feels both like yesterday and a lifetime ago.

For decades, young children and in-laws alike have grown restless on Meloni’s back porch, waiting for the family’s extended farewell scenes to fade to the blacktop of the parking lot. Mom was never in a hurry to let a celebration end.

And when it came to family goodbyes, no one could filibuster like Anna Margaret Riddell.

The process would begin inside the restaurant … with the Table Hugs, which, to the untrained eye, read like actual Goodbyes. In reality they only marked the initiation of the “Fixin’ to Leave” phase — kind of like a stretching of the goodbye hamstrings. In the classic version of the ritual, Mom, blood pressure freshly elevated from the family fistfight to pick up the check (she hated to lose, and swore vengeance when she did), would initiate a deceptive first round of hugs at the site of the first person arising from their chair. Owing to the mastery of her craft, she’d sometimes manage a second loop around the table before she escorted, or was escorted by, the last to leave.

Once we got Mom to the porch, the goodbye clock didn’t formally start until she had her post-meal cigarette, which she took on one of the stone benches to the side of the awning. In an effort to move things along, the family was not above deploying Operation: Grandchild Sacrifice … where we’d order one of the grandkids “to go smoke with Grandma,” when we sensed the table was itching to break up.

__

Ever since I can remember, back to the days when I played the roll of the family’s restless eight-year-old, Meloni’s was always THE PLACE for family celebrations.

Whenever we had a reason to celebrate, no discussion was ever needed. And no one ever argued the choice.

Our family has gathered around one of their signature long tables to celebrate visits from relatives (where the fistfights over the checks rivaled Ali-Frazier), light birthday candles, cut anniversary cakes, and open graduation cards. My nieces and nephews and I literally grew up around the long table immediately to the left of the restaurant’s side entrance.

A long Meloni’s table was always the perfect (and safest) place to introduce new boyfriends and girlfriends to our loving, idiosyncratic family. As years passed, we’ve table-hugged those boyfriends and girlfriends into husbands and wives, and eventually, into parents of their own.

It’s where Karry and I announced our wedding plans to my family.

It’s where Mom and Dad celebrated their 50th anniversary.

It’s where the family gathered after Mom’s memorial service.

It’s where my sisters and brother gathered in June on what would’ve been my parents’ 67th wedding anniversary.

A major reason it’s remained so special to us over the years is that is has changed so little. It first opened in 1950. And it’s to the credit of the previous and current owners that they recognized a good thing when they tasted it.

It’s the kind of place every small town worth its red sauce has, had or should have.

Red checker cloth tables. Stenciled Italian scenes running along painted white walls that meet wood paneling. Dimly lit wooden bar lined with tall red stools and flanked by classic green booths along a wall blooming with old photos.

Dean Martin and Frank Sinatra supplying a crackly soundtrack. The smell of an old social hall scented by decades of home made boiling red sauce.

The atmosphere nourishes every bit as much as the food.

The menu might as well be carved on stone tablets, as it hasn’t had reason to change in years. It reads like a Shakespeare sonnet (no wasted syllables), and each of us has memorized our favorite parts.

Salad is a given for just about everyone, either as a side or as an antipasta entre. Technically speaking, Meloni’s homemade bleu cheese dressing is the true given. The salad part is merely a conveyance for the dressing, which is so sublime, I must now pause for a moment of silence out of respect….

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mom would always insist that I order the Veal Parm, though I seldom needed the nudge. Tuesday Night Veal Night is a Uniontown institution. For years, one of my favorite parts of Facebook has been seeing an old friend from the neighborhood post ritual checks-in with his Dad for Veal Night.

Dad swore by their spaghetti with meat sauce and meat balls. He swore more loudly on takeout occasions when he got home to discover they gave him marinara or dropped a ball. Speaking of takeout … back in the day, you could bring your own pot from home for Meloni’s to fill with pasta and sauce. Raising four young kids in the early 60’s, Mom and Dad brought home more than a few pots. Dad also lovingly recalled the years when Meloni’s served as the place where the local dance musicians would gather in the wee hours after weekend gigs … to talk shop and tell stories before heading home.

I can remember my first memories … the ritual of parking in the Sherwin Williams lot (where Dad was the store manager), and walking across the street so we could enter through their magical side entrance. The climb up their long, narrow, low-ceiling corridor felt like a secret passage. The olfactory crescendo that built as the hallway elbowed left (allowing you to steal a glance through the kitchen window to your right). The door that spat you out at the front of the restaurant, where the early arrivers announced your presence with a yell, triggering Opening Hugs.

__

I was the early arriver last Sunday. Succeeded in grabbing us a long table ahead of the church crowd. Kissed my three sisters and hugged my brother upon their arrivals. My nephew Kenny was, fittingly, the last to arrive. A former restless-eight-year-old himself, he accompanied his beautiful wife, Maria, a former new-girlfriend-at-the-table, and their indescribably adorable 11-month old son, (Little) Kenny, who will become a big brother himself next year.

We were in no hurry to order, though perusing the menus was little more than a perfunctory act. Salads, antipastas, pastas. I debated for a hot minute, and waited for Mom’s voice in my head to encourage me to order the Veal Parm.

There was an extra seat at the long table, allowing us to switch seats so we could catch up with everybody throughout the meal. Whenever there was a lull in the conversation, we just ogled over Little Kenny.

We were in no hurry to leave. Conversation was dessert.

Laurie mitigated the fistfight over the check by picking up the bill when no one was looking. I gave her some crap for it, like Mom might have (minus the swear words). It felt like quoting a scene from a favorite movie.

Laurie then asked everyone to raise their glass, and we leaned them across the table to clink to Mom and Dad.

Then came the table hugs, before we made our way through the mostly-empty dining room, having long outlasted the post-church crowd.

And we paused on the porch, initiating another round of hugs that, by my calculations, lasted exactly one cigarette long.

As the scene unfolded in front of her, Maria spoke for generations of in-laws and young children alike, when she said quietly to herself, “Oh, I thought we already said goodbyes inside.”

It’s nice to know that, after all these years, the filibuster can still sneak up on the unsuspecting.

Before the scene faded to the blacktop of the parking lot, I checked the wall again. Brushed my hand across the fading kids’ menu green crayon graffiti, allowing the eight-year-old version of myself to exchange a high-five with my former eight-year-old.

Unconsciously, I spoke the words aloud, and they came out as a prayer … for hopefully generations to come.

Be Back Soon.

Advertisements
Standard
Excursions

Donner, Party of Two?

So, Peter and I are wrapping our fifth day alone in the house together, while Karry and Emma are away doing a national dance thingy in New Orleans.

Conditions are relatively and surprisingly stable here on the home front.

Of course I trained hard for this. Translation: I listened to a podcast on the Donner Party on Saturday morning (true story). As a result I feel pretty prepped in the what-not-to-do-department if things go really sideways. Just in case, I think we have enough tiny cans of cat food to keep cannibalism from becoming a serious consideration until the girls return.

Among the many things I’ve learned this week is that tiny cans of cat food are ridiculously adorable. I’ve been using a tiny spoon to scoop their tiny food into their tiny bowls. And I’ve found that it’s impossible to resist talking to cats as if they are human babies when one is using a tiny spoon to scoop tiny food from tiny cans into tiny bowls. Is Mistow Viktow hungwee?

Incidentally (again), this week has marked the first time in the year-plus that they’ve been living with us that Viktor Kitty and Roman Kitty have acknowledged my presence in the house. Although technically speaking, they’ve really only acknowledged the tiny food I’ve placed in their tiny food bowls. The first full day the girls were away, Viktor slept for like 12 hours straight in my downstairs office chair. I think he was trying to hibernate until the girls returned.

But that’s just the tip of the freakish occurrence iceberg. A few other unprecedented highlights:

  • Peter and I actually survived each other making a grocery run on Saturday, after he literally begged me not to make him go. Aside from us loudly arguing in front of the checkout lady at Giant Eagle, and almost coming to blows over chocolate milk at the Aldi, the excursion was virtually incident-free, except for all the sh*t he tried tossing in the cart that was not on the Official List.
  • Complicating this week’s proceedings …  on Saturday, I picked up the season’s first batch of veggies from our CSA subscription. And get this, I executed a roasted kohlrabi recipe the other night that didn’t taste like punishment. #dadsonfire
  • When I came home from work Monday night, Peter had dinner ready. He’d set the table, had steaks on the grill, corn on the stove, and potatoes in the oven. Not only that, we had delightful conversation at the table. I’m not exaggerating, the conversation was friggin’ delightful.
  • Needless to say, I’ve upped my laundry game to a whole new level. Pouring bleach in the bleach hole, sorting like a sumbitch, turning the knobby thingies like a Boss. Evidently, my enthusiasm is infectious. Peter actually offered to wash, dry and fold clothes the other night. ‘Bout shat my pants. I’m seriously considering adopting him.

I will acknowledge that we’ve, um, ‘adjusted’ the standards that Karry typically holds the house accountable to … but so far, we’re keeping each other reasonably clean, fed and dressed.

Though we’re still not past the ½ point of Survival Week.

According to my training, as long as we don’t follow bad advice to take a non-existent shortcut across treacherous terrain in the middle of a horrendous winter, we should steer reasonably clear of having to ask Google how to tenderize human flesh.

Plus, we’ve got all that adorable tiny cat food.

Just to be safe, prayers por favor.FullSizeRender-3 copy

Standard
Excursions, The Road Ahead

Perfectly Timed ….

Behind these smiles are some stories, that, if you hold them close enough to your ear, you can still hear the beer-sticky basement floor of 311 North Richill Street in them.

That sacred address was responsible for us first colliding in our late teens, and, thus, gathering together last night at PNC Park, to celebrate one of our own NOT turning 50 (as the sign indicates).

That sacred address had a significant hand in at least four of us somehow convincing pretty college girls who totally should have known better to first dance with us, and eventually to marry us.

We solely owe last night’s gathering to an inspired idea from one of them (much love and thanks to Natalie).

Though it was intended as a gift to Popie, it was as much of one to the rest of us: a perfectly-timed reminder that no distance of time can diminish a good story’s ability to coax an on-demand laugh, head shake, hi-five, wince, or blush. And that we experienced each in equal and abundant measure in that golden (ZE) Chapter of our lives.

It was good to hear that my first college roommate’s high-pitched giggle is still in regular rotation (and still higher-pitched than my own). It was good to throw a hug around my last college roommate (and unapologetically go back for seconds). It was good to learn of (and meet) kids who are just blowing their parents away with the young men and women they are becoming, and also of children who are younger karma vessels for the ornerier among us.

It was good to see that Popie still lets his smile have the run of his face.

I think my new favorite game on the planet is to put the 19-year-old versions of us in the left column, and our, um, not-50 versions on the right, and to draw the connecting lines. I’ll let you figure out which column features at least one naked street bowler and which features at least one CDC-supporting, life-saving chemist.

Used to be Friday nights would not end until the clock was deep into single digits, or before our butts hit the beer-sticky basement floor of 311 North Richill for a communal rendition of the theme from Hawaii-5-0.

So it was telling that the majority of us were exchanging goodbye handshakes and hugs by 10:30 (and well before the post-game fireworks)… in deference to our drives home and long-week-depleted energy reserves.

But, as the above picture proves, the smiles will keep.

And as the years have proven, so will the stories … and the bond.

Standard