Ours was the third booth from the back on the left. A young widow with two preschoolers, my young mother had no propensity for preparing balanced dinners for toddlers at home. The chicken fried steak and meatloaf meals that Harold prepared were so generous–and at $1.29, so well priced–that my thrifty mother ordered a single meal which we shared. My earliest memories of dinner were served by Harold’s brother Jim or Jim’s wife Ruth at the Main Cafe.
Looking back, so much of my early education in indirect communication was acquired in this small southeastern Iowa cafe on 7th and Main.
A look or a nod to Jim would yield a refilled coffee cup or a scoop of butter brickle ice cream served in a sundae glass.
While the ancient menu might contain tempting items like grilled cheese sandwiches, Harold expected everyone to order from the specials, and he had a less than subtle way of bringing noncompliant customers around to his way of thinking.
Jim sitting at the bar behind his old Royal, typing up tomorrow’s menu, meant that he was not to be disturbed.
A customer standing at the bar near the front would invariably prompt Ruth or Jim to materialize, accept payment and add the bill to the stack on the metal spike next to the register.
Each evening, after a leisurely dinner, the crosswords and dessert, my mother would carefully stack all of the dishes and position them to the side of the table nearest the server. Jim would respond with a nod, his expression of thanks
It warms my heart to hear you share this story, Thesa. I hope that there are still small diners that cultivate unconventional families like ours.