Today, Sunday, September 22nd I guess may very well be the best day we'll ever have at my little restaurant, Mike's Last Resort. You can check your calendars - I don't think you'll find that September 22nd is any important holiday. On a normal week Friday's are our biggest days. During the entire year we have some big days closer to Christmas, then of course Valentine's Day, and Mother's Day are really busy days. But today....was really way BIGGER.
It seemed that it would be the normal average Sunday for us at the restaurant - our cooks Melvin and D.T. had prepared our normal Sunday Buffet - which is a "old school" Northeast Texas Sunday Dinner. We try and make it like my Grandma Roberts did - fried chicken, pork roast, chicken fried steak, turnip greens, purple hull peas, mashed potatoes, fried okra, and southern cream gravy are usually the headliners, today's extra special was Melvin's Meat Loaf which everyone loves. We had our regular salad bar, but this week we had some extra Romaine Lettuce, so I had made a Caesar Salad - you don't see Caesar Salad around here to often. Or course, we had sweet rolls and cornbread muffins. For dessert, we served our standards bread pudding, peach cobbler, and our "soon to be famous" New Orleans Style Bread Pudding. Basically, it is what I call the "Soul Food" of Northeast Texas, nothing too fancy just good old home cooking from "these parts".
Early on, around 11:00 in the morning, some of our regulars had gotten out of church early and came into enjoy the Sunday Buffet. A little later on four very well dressed gentlemen came in after church Mt. Pleasant, Texas about 12 miles away. One of these gentlemen, asked me if I grew up around here, and I proudly told him, "Pewitt High School Class of 1973". That gentleman turned out to be Mr. Jim Welch, the father Cindy, one of my class mates from "way back in the day." I remembered Mr. Welch as a being tall and big - I was surprised to see that he wasn't even as tall and certainly not as big as me. His daughter, Cindy, was one of the prettiest girls in school, and married a really nice fellow named Landy Roberts. I was always sorry I could never get my nerve up to even ask her to go the the movies with me, she was just too pretty (and I was sure she would have rejected a mutt like me) and still is a beautiful lady. Cindy's daughter has a high-profile job in the fashion industry in Dallas with the prestigous company Niemann Marcus - and she is, of course, just a pretty as her mother. Mr. Welch's blue eyes sparkled as he spoke about Cindy and his lovely granddaughter in Dallas. I know he is very proud of both of them.
Another old class mate, Professor Gordon Betts came in with his son Joel. Joel, had just won a Blue Ribbon this weekend at the East Texas Fair for his beautiful BeefMaster heifer. Joel is a really neat kid, friendly, and not too shy ...my bet is he's going to be a chip off the old block and earn a degree from Texas A&M like his dad.. Gordon, got his PHD from Texas A&M and now teaches at Tyler Junior College. Gordon, has been working on "the old family farm" which is nearby and just dug a great big pond with a dozer. I know a great many college professors but, Gordon is the only one that I know that can also operate a dozer! Things were getting busy and I didn't get to visit with Gordon and Joel as much as I wanted to, but they are great guys - and Gordon says he will have a party soon down at the farm and that he will make sure I am invited.
The next thing I know, in to the restaurant comes Ms. Faye Vickers escorted by her niece, Anita Steadman. As it turns out, Ms. Faye, was out to celebrate her ninetieth birthday - at my restaurant. What a hoot! Ms. Faye gets around fairly nimbly with the assistance of her cane. They had just come from Church. Ms. Faye is one of the nicest ladies around and has a "coffee" every Wednesday at her house for all of the neighbors at Glass Club Lake. She is always quite elegant, and barely eats enough to feed a bird. As if this weren't enough, into the restaurant walks my Mom, Carmen Roberts (Mom lives at the Glass Club Lake and is neighbors with Ms. Faye and Ms. Anita. I didn't see her come in, but I found her sitting there next to Ms. Anita and Ms. Faye - in a booth all together. I always greet Mom the same way, "Hi Mom, You OLD BAT!" I could never really tell my Mom how much I love her. So anyhow, they enjoyed the buffet together, the three of them, Mom, Ms. Anita, and Ms. Faye. Since it was slow, I started gathering up the stuff to make them a special dessert in honor of Ms. Faye's 90th Birthday.
I have a special little cart and gas stove at the restaurant that I use to do "flambe cooking " table side. I probably would have made Ms. Faye "banana's foster" but we were out of banana's. So, I substituted apples for the bananas, and put a little cinnamon on top of those. When I served the flaming dessert (with Bacardi 151 rum) - you'd have thought Ms. Vickers was the Queen of England enjoying lunch with her three closest friends. When I came back to see how they were doing Ms. Faye exclaimed "delicious!...fabulous!". I am pretty sure she had never experienced a dessert cooked with flame at tableside - it was great to have the chance to make her day a little more special. Next thing I know, out comes all of the kitchen staff and waitresses to sing happy birthday to Ms. Vickers!
Things seemed to start slowing down, as they should, it was getting close to closing time which 2:00 in the afternoon on Sundays. The kitchen had already shut down, we had begun cleaning up, most of the dishes were done. And I guess it would have been a good day had it ended here....but
I had walked up to the front of the restaurant, getting ready to "lock-up" when I saw a lady coming up the sidewalk and heading toward the door. As I opened the door for her, she asked "Are Y'all Still Open?". I said "sure we'll be open for another 15 - 20 minues come on in". She looked a bit distraught with my answer, and said "I have family coming and they won't be here for a little while." I am with the Jacobs family, and their granddaughter was killed in that automobile accident late Thursday night". To me, there was only one answer I could even imagine offering this lady.. without thinking I said, "Please come in - we are open as long as you and your family want to stay."
You see, when tragedy strikes a tiny community like ours - we all hear it - we all feel it - and we all hurt together.
I had heard about it the accident Friday morning, the accident had happened late Thursday night. Four teenagers, hurrying home in pick-up truck slammed into a tree on a narrow country road. Two dead at the seen, two others rushed to regional hospitals. Earlier in the day, I had seen pictures of the demolished truck the teens were riding in. Still worse, I spoke with relatives of the two survivors who had been up all night Thursday and all day Friday trying to take care of their loved ones. Worse yet, friends of mine who drive wreckers and are first responders had told me what they saw. Like I said before, when we are hurt, we all hurt together, we all pray together, and we all cry together.
Before long, about a dozen of the family arrived. We made them a special table in our banquet room. We turned everything back on, we kept the cooks, waitresses, and dishwashers there....and it was our honor to SERVE THIS FAMILY. I know that the finest food in the world could not possibly heal this family's loss - but it is all that we can do - no one complained about having to work late to help this family.
I met the Grandfather of the young girl, Chelsea, who had been killed in the accident. I cannot even fully imagine his sorrow. He looked to be around my age and told me his name was "Freddy Jacobs". I asked "did you grow up around here?" He said "no, I grew up in Irving, Texas." Still he looked familiar to me.
A short while later - I overheard one of the ladies talking about her Grandpa, Mr. Early Jacobs. And I knew right then who they were. Mr. Early Jacobs lived one door over from my Grandpa and Grandma Roberts in the government housing in Naples, Texas. Mr. Early had a business mowing lawns, selling fish and vegetables. This "government housing" was commonly called "The Circle" because it was a cul de sac with a circular drive in the center. I stayed there as kid with my Grandparents - W.L. and Effie Roberts. And Freddy Jacobs was Mr. Early Jacobs' Grandson. I had known him since I was 12 years old.
When I first had met Freddy Jacobs - we had played "sandlot baseball" together in the summers with all the neighborhood kids.....the Clark Boys....Billy, Bobby, Steve, Mike and David (who lived next door to Mr. Early). The Luttrell Boys - Terry, Lanny and Toughy. Glenn and James Barnes. Bubba Perkins and Charlie Smith. We played football together and we dug a "man cave" together in the side of a hill. We were all there in this small, poor, but very happy little community.
As I recall, Freddy had indeed grown up in Irving. I believe his parents may have been separated...he spent almost every summer with his Grandparents and all the rest of us at "The Circle". Those were great times. I can't remember anything that we ever worried about. Furthermore, Freddy and I were somewhat "raised" by our Grandparents. We were taught the old values.....to be fair and honest....I know now we were damn lucky to have that kind of upbringing. Many youngsters today, would benefit from learning first-hand the "old school work ethic and honor" of keeping you word and being a good person.
I had a good visit with Freddy and his family, we talked about the old times at the "Circle" - we remembered people that we grew up with and generally had a "reunion". The family stayed with us at the restaurant for a couple of hours.
When everyone had finished eating and visiting - we packed up all of the buffet for them to take home with them. They took home meat loaf, fried chicken and some of just about everything. I got hugs from just about all of them before they left. I felt truly sad for the loss they were suffering - I guess it was like a "shared sadness". I know for sure that we helped make an absolutely terrible day just a little bit better for this family.
Nancy and I have only been in the restaurant business for a little over a year, and we may never make a nickle in the restaurant business....but I will guarantee you our little restaurant had at least one really good day and that was Sunday, September 22nd.