They posted a semi-formal letter on the bulletin board last night. This was how they let the wait staff, the cooks, the bus boys, and the bartenders know that the restaurant would be closing forever on June 1st.
But it wasn’t like everyone didn’t already know. The local press got wind of the rumors and looked into the story, which, to be fair, is significant. As Peter Genovese of The Star-Ledger so eloquently put it, the “tiny clapboard-and-tin cabin opened at the lonely corner of Prospect and Eagle Rock Avenues in West Orange [NJ] at the height of the Depression in 1932” is going out of business on June 1, 2013.
My mother handed me the letter from the restaurant managers, the family that owns the place, during her usual Sunday visit—stopping by after work, like clockwork, since the restaurant is just up the street. It was a very cordial, very casual letter. Sincere. They thanked the staff for all their hard work over the years. There was a tone of sadness. But really it was the length and styling of the sentences that got me, the punctuation. No lawyer wrote this letter, I thought. This was drafted and redrafted. This was written with thought and care. I read it out loud. I really did. It was touching, really, to be perfectly honest, which was an awkward feeling to get from a letter that represented my mother’s impeding unemployment—which is fairly traumatic. Let me explain.
My mother was a stay-at-home mom because my father forbade her to work. Seriously, just last week she was lamenting it: quitting that “good job” she had at the abovementioned Star Ledger newspaper because my father wouldn’t stand for it.
Fast forward through the full decade of Vietnam vet insanity with dad, and my parents finally got divorced. I was around 10 or 11 years old. My memory is foggy. Hard times.
We moved from a medium sized house to a small apartment. My father went away for good—at least until my early 20s—and my mother went straight back to work. I mean, she had three little kids to house, clothe, and feed with no child support from dear old dad. So, really, what choice did she have?
She had gone to Beauty School before the newspaper job, before father old fashioned came along to screw things up. So, she reached back into her old network and quickly got a job from a friend of a friend who owned a beauty shop. Then she found our small apartment, across the street from the shop, when the landlady came in for her usual Saturday hair appointment and the two of them got to talking.
When the beauty shop money wasn’t enough, another regular customer directed mom to the restaurant—a second job, two nights a week. And when the beauty shop finally went under a few years later, she just eased into being a full-time waitress. She’s been at the restaurant ever since.
She met her current boyfriend when he stopped in for a late dinner with some colleagues over a decade ago. All of her friends work at or frequent the restaurant. Dozens of our family parties have been held in its private rooms. It’s heart breaking in a way that I think my four-year-old nephew, Joey, summed up best.
“He just burst into tears,” mom said, “when I told him the restaurant was closing.” I handed her back the letter.
“I mean, I was going to take the kids to watch them knock the place down,” she continued, “I thought it would be fun for them to see that, ya know? But now I’m afraid Joey might get too upset. He was really crying, Charlie! The poor baby.”
I might start crying, I thought, and laughed a little to myself: welcome to the economic recovery.
There’s a stillness in my family now, a silence hovering around the news. I can feel it. I think everyone’s slightly in shock. I know I am.
I’ve yet to hear from my brother or my sister on the subject, but there’s surely a serious talk coming. A sibling talk really can’t be avoided, I think. I mean, in less than two weeks from this writing, for the first time in any of our adult lives, our mother will be unemployed.