Wednesday, January 21, 2009

The Old Dairy Diner



I walked into the flower shop in my hometown this week and stopped just inside the entry. For a moment, time flashed back 30 years. In my mind's eye, I saw the place when it had housed the old Dairy diner. I saw the lunch counter before me, lined with familiar faces that I had watched eat lunch and dinner hundreds of times.
During my childhood, my grandmother worked late in her home beauty shop each Thursday, so for several years,my grandpa and I had a standing dinner date once a week. We always went to The Dairy. We sat at the far right edge of the counter that ran the length of half the building and along the far wall. It was a comforting routine to take our same place along that line of stools. The seat I always wanted has a close view of the many photographs of the young waitresses that had worked there over the years. Their pictures lined an entire wall and examining them kept me entertained until my standing order of plain cheeseburger and fries would arrive. They were all very pretty girls with elaborate hair . They seemed exotic and glamorous to a little girl in a dowdy bowl cut. I remember thinking that it was very kind of the Millers, who owned the Diary, to care about their waitresses enough to display their pictures.
My grandpa was a frequent customer and everyone knew him. He often talked his construction business with other men and many a house renovation or addition was planned at that counter. My job was to sit quietly and listen. Any nonsense like running around, whining or being obnoxious and demanding while out to dinner-such prevalent behavior today, was pleasantly absent from most restaurants in my childhood. It would have never occurred to me to misbehave, first because I enjoyed being there, and I certainly would not have wanted to risk my grandfather's displeasure or jeopardize future dinners together. An added behavior shaping incentive were the many customers who were also weekly visitors to my grandmother's beauty shop (back when ladies had time to get their hair fixed once a week). They would have informed my grandmother if I had misbehaved.
I passed the extra time after finishing my favorite dinner by covertly watching other diners, eavesdropping on conversations and surreptitiously spinning on my stool. If I drank too much pop at The Dairy, I might have to brave the long trip to the upstairs bathroom. I dreaded using the bathroom because I had to make my way up a long flight of stairs to an upper storage area full of boxes and old machinery that always seemed gloomy and dark. The little bathroom was all the way in the back; a tiny light glowed from the cracked bathroom door on the other side of the long room. I was convinced it was haunted up there and my over-active imagination made my heart race with visions of unseen eyes that seemed to be watching me walk through the gloom. The trip back down was a heart pounding, feet- flying sprint back to the warmth and safety of the lunch counter and my grandfather.
If I ate all of my cheeseburger ( never an issue), I might be offered a piece of lemon, chocolate, or coconut pie made by Ms. Peck while my grandpa finished talking contracting, or hunting, or fishing to a wide, jovial audience. Each Thursday night was an event.
After coming out of my reverie,I finished up my shopping and as I paid my bill, I noticed they have on display an old ice cream container from The Dairy. It was so nice to still be able to walk through one of the warm places in my memory.

1 comment:

Lisa said...

I used to visit the Dairy occasionally with my grandpa when I was younger. I remember all those pictures on the wall, including one of my aunt Karen who lives right by your old house with the circle window:) I had forgotten all about that bathroom though..I don't think I made that trip very often:) Thanks for the memories.
Lisa
lkkirk@gmail.com