Don's Restaurant was always dark and cool and noisy. Sometimes, in the summer, my mom and sister and I would meet Grandpa at Don's for lunch. Grandpa had been retired from the coal mines for a while; so he spent his days visiting with his friends on Main Street.
Back then, Main Street had a movie theater that showed Jaws and Star Wars and Kramer vs. Kramer. It also had a Baptist church, a bank, a clothing store called Watson's, two dime stores (T,G, & Y and Newberry's), a soda fountain called Rexall's, a jewelry store called Stiles's, and, of course, the Courthouse. Grandpa and his friends gathered to talk and chew gum in front of the Courthouse. Some of them smoked cigarettes or chewed tobacco, but not Grandpa. Grandpa chewed cinnamon Dentyne and would only give me "half a cake" if I asked for a piece.
Because he never learned to drive, he took a taxi downtown every morning. When I asked my mom what Grandpa did all day downtown, she said he "loafed around." Sometimes, he took care of business at the bank. Sometimes he sat at the counter in Don's Restaurant and talked with whomever sat at the stool beside him. I wondered what they talked about.
On days we met Grandpa at Don's, he was already there, holding a table for us. It was usually a corner booth, the vinyl seat cold against the backs of my legs. Don's was so noisy, with clattering silverware and clinking ceramic plates. We could barely hear each other talk. Grandpa didn't talk much anyway.
He ordered Cokes all around, while I took my time looking over the menu. Chicken fried steak, macaroni and cheese, breakfast served all day, tuna salad... I thoroughly read the neatly typed descriptions of each entree; but I always ordered a grilled cheese sandwich with a side of steak fries. The plates were white with a green ribbon of paint circling the rim. I squirted a pool of vinegary ketchup between my fries and sandwich, scooting the pickles out of the way to save them for last. I savored the perfectly grilled sandwich, thick with melted cheese; and I ate every last one of my fat, flat fries. Grandpa cleaned his plate, too; and my sister used a waxy red crayon to trace letters on the paper kids' menu. We never said much. Mom ate her tuna salad with a fork in one hand and a Saltine cracker in the other. Her packages from Newberry's leaned against her hip on one side. Her wicker purse stood open on the seat beside her; but she didn't need to pay. Grandpa always took care of the check.
I wish we'd taken a picture there, something to look at and remember. Three generations gathered around a wobbly Formica table in a dimly-lit diner, Grandpa wiped the corners of his mouth with his paper napkin, mom asked about his day, my sister sat on her knees, and I made a face when I bit into a sour pickle.
My Grandpa died when I was in my early 20s. By that time, Don's Restaurant had been closed for years. Most of downtown died store by store before Grandpa passed away; but he still took a cab downtown everyday as long as he was able.
I wish I had a picture to remember us at Don's Restaurant just exactly like it was, just exactly as we were...a moment in time that seemed so ordinary then and so memorable today.