Wednesday, June 8, 2011

There wasn't a menu.

Me (near the Mad River), 2006

Christine owned a simple little cafe beside the Mad River. I hear it still exists under the same name, but it is no longer Christine's.

I really cannot imagine it without her, her well-worn books of poetry scattered about, her mismatched china, her very particular ways. She opened when she felt like it and closed when she had other items to tend. There wasn't a menu. Almost everyone who walked in the door was a little confused. This did not inspire her to change.

She always had egg salad. People would ask if there was a menu and she'd say, I have some very nice egg salad. Not another word. Sometimes she'd have chicken salad and she'd follow the same routine.

She was an intriguing woman and I wanted her to like me. I moved in slowly. I happily let her decide my lunch, a plate of whatever. I quickly learned that she did know what was best.

Her salads were accompanied by slices of crusty bread that she would brush with olive oil, sprinkle with sea salt, and just barely brown beneath the broiler. A vegetable of some sort would always be on the plate. Although there wasn't much to prepare, she took a very long time arranging things in her own precise way. It was always perfect, perfect for me.

Christine employed a young red head who was responsible for all that revolved around the espresso machine. They needled one another with a mutual respect. The red head sweetened our cappuccinos with maple syrup.

I did become friends with Christine. One afternoon she closed the cafe and invited me to stay and chat. She explained that she did things to suit her preferences versus the customer's because she had chosen to spend most of her waking hours in this cafe, she knew she wouldn't do it forever, and she wanted to enjoy the experience. Most people just don't think this way. She was wise and I am happy to have found her and to have experienced her magical little space while it existed.

When I returned to the other side of our country we continued our friendship by exchanging poems and letters. I recall her mentioning that her time with the cafe was coming to an end. She said we should come back and run the place. I wonder what that would have been like.

I'm not sure who wrote the last letter, but somewhere along the line we drifted apart. Sometimes I think of writing to her. It's been years now.

Just as I worried each year my family returned to summer camp that the children I'd met the year before had forgotten me, I worry that Christine won't remember me. But would it matter? The past would remain the same.


  1. she sounds amazingly grounded. clever lass.

    those hard-won friendships are rather fabulous - there are a few out here in blogland that are like that for me, too.

    well, your workshopping has set up my positive thinking for the day, thank you (again). x

    (also, mad river?! that such a place exists makes me rather happy)

  2. Sounds like so many places in the islands here.

    Love the last lines of this the most.

  3. Beautifully written. I go through phases where I'm great with letter writing and then I'm not. This is a good reminder to send out a few more letters and postcards soon. Sometimes the time without letters sent makes it all the more sweeter when they resume once again.

  4. I bet once you lost her, Anne Lamont found her and wanted to write a book centered around her.

    But she wouldn't let her because she knew you deserved to tell her story. And now you have and it's beautiful.

    xo Jane

  5. I started my day reading about the evolutionary progress of friendship (How many friends can we manage on average? 150. How many intimate friends can we have at a given time? 3-5.), and ended it with your thoughts on a special friend slipping out of these rings of intimacy.

    The first piece of writing made me feel below average (my Facebook friends number less than 100, but, interestingly, my three special friends are not among them). The second made me sad.

    Some days are like this. And that's okay.

    If curious, here's a link to the LA Times book review I read:

  6. you are so prolific with your writing and its always such high do you do that??? you have this innate capacity of writing down your stream of consciusness and for us to read it as if it is happening right now is quite amazing. I know 2 peeps that possessed such talent: Virginia and James.

  7. "It was always perfect, perfect for me." ...sounds, well, just perfect to me... and I like that you feel "the past would remain the same".

  8. I think I would have liked to eaten the egg salad there.

    Made me reflect on past friendships.


  9. what an intriguing and interesting concept. how wonderful that you came to know Christine...she sounds like she would be a good person to spend time with. it is odd how we lose touch with people, yet never really forget them, and often wonder where they are, and if they too remember us....
    i hope you're having a lovely week, and thank you for the almond cake recipe I think I shall try it this weekend. Annie x

  10. what a beautiful and nostalgic story :)

  11. Wonderful.

    Maybe it's because I once had a cafe, one that I ran on my terms and eventually had to close--but this story of yours, more than any, resonated deeply. I loved reading about Christine's place, her sense of place, and your burgeoning friendship.

    I'll also say that I feel certain that she remembers you. As I've grown older, lost track of people of-a-time, I'm always astonished by the power of memory--people who I think would never remember me after 20 plus years, and do. I also remember many of my good cafe customers---the connections made over good food are strong ones.

  12. Lovely. What a wonderful memory that will always be with you.

  13. Lucy, It's a real river, in Vermont. A beautiful area.

    kate, I think I'd like those islands.

    alexandria, I haven't done any letter writing in a long time. I like your perspective.

    Jane, Poor Anne...

    Rachael, I hate to compare myself to such statistics, but I am intrigued. Just pulled up the review.

    Amelia, Thank you so much. But wait, Virginia and James?

    gracia, Thank you. I'm always a bit hesitant about going back.

    RW, You would have liked it, I'm sure. Everything was good.

    Annie, Yes, life...memory...friendships. Enjoy the cake.

    M., Thanks.

    nancy, I wish I could have been a regular in your cafe.

    Michele, Yes, it will. It's a nice one.

  14. Oh this is such a beautiful post. I would have loved to have gone to Christine's café and have her choose my lunch. I often feel bad about not keeping in touch with old friends but often wonder if we'd have much to say to each other after all this time. Perhaps it's silly not to try but your last line reassures me and I feel good about keeping those memories alive on paper.

  15. Please send her a letter.
    There's nothing sweeter than to be remembered by people you thought you'd lost.

  16. Christine's sounds like a wonderful place. I envy her mindset, too. If I ever run the cafe that I flirt with in my mind... yes, I'd like to run it the way Chrstine did.

    And now I'd like some egg salad.

  17. The way Christine ran her café is not a bad way to run one's life. Being present in daily life, knowing that it won't last forever and enjoying the experience is something that I struggle with and strive for. Your words have travelled with me all day...

  18. The way Christine ran her café is not a bad way to run one's life. Being present in daily life, knowing that it won't last forever and enjoying the experience is something that I struggle with and strive for. Your words have travelled with me all day...

  19. You know she would remember you. Why don't you send her a copy of this post?

  20. mhm... it's a relief to remember, through your poetic words, we all have a christine rattling somewhere, in some cupboard...
    time is such a devil.

  21. How sweet. I would love to find a local cafe like that, where they would surprise me with whatever tasty things they're prepared that day and toast the bread just so. And, now I want to try maple syrup in my coffee :)

  22. What an amazing woman she sounds like. I would very much agree with her philosophy, but it seems like it would be hard to please the average customer. All the better!

  23. Beautifully written; dreamlike. I find myself wanting to visit this relative moment in time.

    Love: 'She was an intriguing woman and I wanted her to like me.'

  24. beautiful. loved to read about christine and her cafe.
    and i can't imagine her forgetting about u and ur sweet friendship.

  25. I would want her to like me too.

  26. gahh it's places like these that cement my adoration for food so thoroughly. there were lots of places in southeast asia that didn't have a menu, because they didn't need one: they did one thing, and they did it the best. love it!

  27. this is lovely—the space you have created, with and between your words. i'm so glad to have stumbled upon here. i just left san francisco this week. somehow, san francisco seems even sweeter now.

  28. Emily Vanessa, I know you would have enjoyed this cafe. As far as keeping in touch goes, I've found that sometimes you just can't go back and sometimes you can. I always feel a bit hesitant.

    Magda, Yes, it is sweet to feel remembered (except sometimes by ex-boyfriends...).

    Jenn, Now I'm thinking of egg salad again. I don't have any mayo. It would be nice if I could just pop over to your cafe...

    Julie, I completely agree and try to do the same.

    cookiecrumb, Have I mentioned that my husband sometimes calls me Piglet (Winnie-the-Pooh)?

    woolf, Yes, time. It is a challenge.

    Nancy, It worked, perhaps because it was really good maple syrup.

    Nicole, You are correct. I saw many average customers scowl. Oh well...

    Lecia, A special occasion. It doesn't happen often.

    [sen.siˈʝes], Thank you. It was fun remembering.

    Melissa, It happens...

    Liz, What a treat for you. Those places are often hard to find.

    Kym, San Francisco is sweet, but Christine's Cafe was in Vermont.