Friday, February 01, 2008

After-Dinner Entertainment

I've mentioned that the Midwest town I grew up in was quite small. There were not a lot of choices for going out to dinner, especially if what you wanted was steak, as my parents occasionally did.

The Oak Room was the nicer restaurant connected to the motel at the north end of town not far from the Interstate exit. Not only did they have nice steaks, but they also flew in some nice filet of sole once a week, something that was a real treat for us land-lubbers. Of course, most of the time I went there I was a kid so my brother and I ate hamburgers. They were good too. Of course my favorite part was the spring water. The motel wasn't on town water, they had their own well. And I though it was the best tasting water ever! This is decades ago, back when the idea of selling bottled water would have been laughed off the stage, so to speak.

I liked the way that the waitress/hostess there knew to put us at a table underneath a light, so that my dad wouldn't embarrass us by making a fuss about it being too dark to read the menu. Of course, I don't know why he needed the menu, he and my mom rarely got anything other than steak or the fish special.

But one of the things I liked best about eating there had nothing to do with the meal or even the table. After we had eaten, my brother and I would ask to be excused and we would walk down the hallway. The hall ran from the restaurant to the kitchens, with restrooms part-way down. There was also another hall that branched off to the less-fancy dining room where there was a buffet.

My brother and I were always very careful to stay out of the way of people carrying trays down the hallway. But what we were there for, other than to stretch our legs, was to look at the artwork.

Local artists had works for sale hanging in the hallways, on both sides. Even if the pieces didn't sell, they were still changed out every couple of weeks. I remember looking at nearly everyone and deciding if I liked it or not. And when Mom was finished with her dinner, while Daddy paid the bill, I would show Mom which ones I liked better. One time she even ended up buying one, though I didn't know it at the time. As it turns out, the artist was the mother of our dentist (yes, remember this was a small town) and Mom liked it too. It now hangs in my office at home, although it really isn't my style any more (and sometimes I think I'd like to change the frame). But I digress.

We didn't have any formal art galleries and certainly no art museums in town. We didn't have much public art either, so this was about the only opportunity for us to see artwork without a trip to a bigger town or city.

There was another place we went sometimes. It was downtown - keeping in mind that "downtown" was a single street with a total of maybe 25 businesses along it including the two banks, a shoe store, a few clothing stores, a furniture store, two drugstores, two five-and-dime stores and a couple of jewelry stores. Across the alley from the furniture store, two doors down the other way from the Sears catalog-only (except for appliances) store, was a small bar. There were a couple of booths on the front wall next to the entrance, and then no more than 6 or 8 other tables. The bar was along the back wall of the main room.

I am pretty sure this was another hamburger-type place for my brother and me. But there were two types of extra entertainment here. One was the juke box. We cold play three songs for a quarter. After we ordered, one of our parents would give us a quarter and off we would go to pick out music. Some choices were pre-ordained. We always played "Misty" because Daddy liked that. We always played "Joy to the World" because my brother really liked that one (especially the "Jeremiah was a bullfrog" part because my niece's cat was Jeremiah and he didn't look anything like a bullfrog).

That left one song that we had to agree on from what seemed like a long, long list. I was two-and-a-half years older than my brother and I usually got my way. Especially since he got tired of waiting for me to read through everything on the list. After all, they did change things up a bit and if I we only played one different song each time we went (maybe twice month) it might be I'd miss something. Of course in my pre-teen years, I didn't know most of the songs and few of the artists. We didn't get much radio that wasn't country-and-western, so if these were pop artists, this might have been the only place I could hear then, unless they were on a TV variety show. And now, I don't remember anything we played except those two standbys!

That was the during-dinner amusement. After dinner was also special if a little scary.

The restrooms were way in the back of the restaurant across from the kitchen. To get there, you had to go past the left end of the bar into the back room, around a pool table and past another door to the alley, and finally down a dim, little hallway to the restrooms. I remember dim lights, cracked linoleum, and a lightweight door with a screen-door kind of hinge. I have to think it wasn't dirty, because I don't think my parents would have taken us there. But it was far from new.

And that pool table! At that time I didn't know anyone with a pool table. If no one was playing, and if we promised to stay out of the way of the waitresses bringing food past, we were allowed to "play" pool. We were awful and I don't think we got any better. But we thought we were pretty cool, rubbing those chalk squares against the end of the cues and holding our fingers "just so" for balance. We were careful not to scuff the felt, and we nearly always kept the balls on the table (although I think my brother was so short, it can't have been an easy thing).

If there were people playing pool, we never asked to watch. We might go slow on the way to the restroom, but we were too intimidated being around all those grownups we didn't know.

I guess this was my childhood version of a night on the town.


Sara said...

Hello, Michele sent me to say - that was a really neat look back at your life as a child. I too can remember going out with my mother, grandmother, and sister to have dinner "out".

sister AE said...

Hi, Sara. Glad you stopped by.

Maria said...

Going out to dinner was rare in my family and a very big deal. It was reserved for very special occasions. Now, I would wager that Bing, Liv, and I dine out at least once a week. And I sort of miss that excitement, you know? The dressing up and the excitement of fancy glasses and plates.

The most beautiful artwork piece I own is one that I bought in a small town cafe in Missouri. It is what I based my subject line in my blog on, a lovely picture of women in bustles and men in top hats trying to feed snapping oysters in a sea. It sounds rather odd and the picture is very odd as well, but unmistakably gorgeous. It is over out fireplace and always gets comments....

sister AE said...

Hello, Maria. Funny what catches the eye, no? We have a watercolor of a stormy sea that we picked up on vacation once in Nova Scotia.

Carmi said...

And what a rich recollection it is! I find it touching how at such an early age, you and your brother both figured out how to find inspiration in the most unexpected of places. Wonderfully related.

sister AE said...

Thanks, Carmi. I'm glad you like it.