Rated: E · Short Story · Family · #1821583
Two passagers on a flight to LA discuss a life
|Hey, we’re flying over the Grand Canyon!|
The Grand Canyon, look how big it is!
You ever been there?
Once, with my wife and kids, years ago.
I never have. Did you hike it or look at it from the rim?
What? I’m sorry, what did you say?
The Grand Canyon, did you hike it?
Oh, we rafted down it with another family. Friends of ours.
Cool! I’ll bet that was great.
Yeah, pretty great… Uh, If you’ll excuse me I think I’ll get a little rest.
Oh I’m sorry I didn’t mean to bother you! I just was excited.
No, no, you weren’t bothering me, I am just kinda preoccupied. Well, I guess I’m really not very tired. My name is Lou.
Hi Lou, I’m Jim; flying out west on business. You too?
Well personal business I guess you could say.
Never been west of the Mississippi. I hope to take in a few sites. Are you from Atlanta?
No, I had a layover there. I uh, I ‘m flying out to meet up with my family. I live in Chicago.
Windy city, huh? What do you do there?
I run a restaurant. My in-laws moved out to LA in the 80s, my wife went last week to visit her brother who moved there with them.
I’ve heard the restaurant business is pretty tough; do you own it?
I do now. My parents migrated from Sicily to the U.S. when I was a boy. Our family ran restaurants there, didn’t own ‘em.
So they started a restaurant in Chicago?
No, they lived in New York for a while, in Brooklyn. They never made much money running the little places in Sicily so my father decided to try other work. Nothing panned out for him so when they learned about some cousins living in Chicago they decided to move there. It was pretty rough when I was growing up, we never had much. But we had enough.
So how’d they get back into the restaurant business?
One of the cousins knew of this place, a kinda hash house that catered to working men mostly .They got jobs working at it. We were really poor then. I remember the drafty apartment me lived in, and how awful cold it got in the winter compared to Sicily. To help make ends meet, I got a job washing dishes and cleaning up when I was 12. Long hard work with no breaks. I never got past the seventh grade.
Wow, that sounds pretty tough. Are your parents still with you?
No, they both passed at about the same time, in their eighties. They loved each other very much. They were very happy in their later years.
So they ended up buying the hash house?
Well, not really. Apparently business started slowing down due to better places opening up. The owner noticed that the food my parents would fix for their own meals looked and smelled pretty good so he asked them to put some of them on the menu. They had all these traditional recipes from Sicily, you know, and they began putting a new dish on the menu from time to time. It didn’t take long before no one would order from the original menu but would order my parents’ food. I guess the owner knew what he had in them, so he promised them a share in the profits at low salaries if they would stay. I think he thought he could bamboozle them out of money but my mother was very shrewd and insisted on reviewing the books. After about 10 years of this, the place had become very popular and the percentage my parents was receiving just wasn’t fair. They developed the whole menu, recruited other Sicilians to cook and serve, even brought in a small band. They decided they had enough and told the owner they were leaving to start their own place.
No, he talked them into staying and increased their share of the profits.
Good for them. And you kept working for them?
Until I was 17. Joined the army toward the end of the Vietnam war, was stationed in Saigon. Was there until we evacuated. Spent the rest of my time in Fort Collins, in Colorado Springs; another cold place. When I got out I got my GED then went to a small college in Illinois with the GI Bill. I earned a degree in business management.
I thought you were pretty well spoken for a seventh grade grad! Wha’d you do then?
Went back to Chicago and got a job at this upscale restaurant as their book keeper. I ended up as their business manager.
That the restaurant you own?
No, the restaurant was only a couple miles from the place my parents’ worked. I’d go to it after work and eat and listen to the band. I, uh, I met my wife there. She was also from Sicily, or at least her parents were. She waited tables while she was working her way through college.
Love at first sight, huh?..... Lou? Are you all right?
Sorry, I was thinking of something. No, it wasn’t love at first sight. She was pretty high spirited; I saw how she handled some customers that would come on to her. Not a pretty sight, especially if my father got involved. My parents liked her a lot and invited her over on some Sundays for dinner. I don’t really think they were thinking of us getting together, I don’t know. Her family knew our family in Sicily and they liked to hear stories she’d heard her parents tell. I guess we kinda slowly fell in love…..without either one of us realizing it. It hit me when she went to Italy one semester; boy was I lonely. My parents noticed me moping around and said I should write her. I was too shy to do that, what a dummy. When she came back I went with my parents to pick her up at the airport. I was so happy but she was burning mad. After hugging my parents, she bore a hole right through me with her eyes. I didn’t know what was wrong. Finally in the back seat of the car I got up the nerve to ask her what was wrong. She really let me have it, the Sicilian came out full force; “why didn’t you write me?” she whispered. Well it wasn’t really a whisper, more like controlled yelling. I felt two inches tall; here I was a professional person acting like a teenager. I could see my mother smiling in the mirror. When we were alone I apologized all over myself and told her how much I’d missed her…..I really missed her. She started to cry and I felt like I’d made a big mistake. But you know how women are? They cry when they’re happy. It wasn’t long and we were married. I don’t think I’d ever seen my parents look so happy.
That’s a real nice story. So How did you get into the restaurant business?
My wife graduated with a degree in marketing. We decided to approach the owner of my parent’s restaurant and tell him some of the ideas we had to expand the place and make it more, you know, upscale. He bowled me over when he said that we should tell my parents our ideas since they now owned a majority share of the place. They were humble people and never let on about things like that. They were also pretty conservative and not big on taking risks. We asked them if we could work out a deal where we would work on salary while introducing our ideas and if business improved enough, let us buy shares. They finally agreed and off we went. I have to say that it wasn’t me that made that place what it is today; it was my wife. She had a kind of genius for how to market the place. She had menu ideas that hadn’t been tried in the city, she knew when and where to advertise, what kind of music to bring in. She expanded and broadened the wine menu from the few traditional wines we served to wines that became the main draw for a lot of people. She insisted that we serve only the very freshest ingredients, which about paralyzed my parents with fear due to the cost, but it all worked, unbelievably so.
Your wife sounds like a very talented person, you must be proud.
Yes, very talented, very proud. We loved all those years it took to make the place our own. My parents sold us their shares and retired, kind of; they were there about as much time after they retired than when they ran the place. It wasn’t like work at all; it was great. We eventually bought out the original owner and the place was all ours.
You said you have kids?
Oh, yeah, they are already in LA with my grandkids. I had trouble getting a flight. I have a boy and a girl. The kids grew up with the place, working in the kitchen, serving, cleaning up. Basically put themselves through school. The boy’s a musician and my daughter works at the restaurant. She seems to have her mother’s flair for the business. Don’t know how I could get along without her. I could always tell how much my son loved music. He’d sing along to the songs and got to know all the musicians. He learned to play the piano and mandolin and sat in once in a while when he was older.
Does your son play at your restaurant?
No, he plays in the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, a cellist. My wife…… my wife always had loved music and encouraged him. He and his wife have two girls, they’re now in college.
I have to say I envy you. I’m divorced. My wife moved away when my kids were young. I only got to see them on holidays and summers. It’s not the same. I remarried but it didn’t work out, she didn’t get along with my kids.
I’m sorry to hear that.
Thanks. Things are better now. They’re going to a college close to me and I see them a lot. But I miss that they didn’t’ grow up with me.
Well, Jim, you just do what you can to show them you love them now. I’m sure they understand.
I hope so.
Looks like we are getting ready to land. It was nice talking to you. You know, you have the rest of your life to get to know your kids better. It’s never too late.
Thanks, you’re right. Have a good time with your family, Lou.
Dad! Oh dad, thank god you’re here, we thought you wouldn’t make the flight.
Honey, it’s alright, don’t cry. I’m sorry I didn’t call. I was the last standby to get on.
Dad, it’s been so awful, I felt so alone without you.
I’m here now, honey.
Are you ready to go see mother, dad?
Uh huh. Where’s your brother?
He’s at the church, we’ll meet him there.
How does she look?
You can hardly tell she was in an accident, dad. A lot of your friends came out this morning.
I hope it doesn’t put them out. Your mother loved her parents so much, she always felt they were so alone when they moved out here. That’s why she made me promise to bury her next to them if she went first.
We know, it’s what she wanted. Everyone loved mother, she was like family to so many. Are you OK, dad? You look so tired.
I’m Okay, I guess. I just don’t know how I am going to live without her.
I know, dad, we’ll all miss her; but, we’ll make it though, okay?