A Restaurant that Delivers more than food
|IT‘S WHAT YOU MAKE OF IT|
When Mandy arrived in Porter‘s Point, she came with just the clothes on her back. She wanted no other reminders of where she had come from. Where she came from wasn’t important, although Pat knew but didn’t ask. The red stilletos glittering with rhinestones, the denim skirt way too short for November and the fake rabbit fur jacket told enough by themselves. The busted lip and purple half-moon under her eye told the rest.
Mandy had no intention of dismounting there when the Greyhound rolled into the Hardee’s that served as the bus depot for this quaint rural town . It was only when the bus driver crooned through the microphone, “Ladies and Gentleman we’ll be stopping here in Porter’s Point for fifteen minutes” that Mandy bothered to pay attention to her surroundings through the smoky windows. Porter had been her grandmother’s surname. Mandy never loved anyone more or felt more loved by anyone than Charlotte Porter. Although she’d been dead now for some years , Mandy always looked for signs of her and tried to follow them if she could. Peering through the darkness of both the window and the night she caught sight of a dogwood and knew this was her stop. Dogwoods had been her nana’s favorite tree.
She took to the train tracks instead of taking the road to shield herself from the lustful eyes and cat calls from men who would be staggering out of their favorite watering holes at this hour. The same type Billy took money from for the "work" she did. The price of her freedom was a banged up face and the promise of more if she couldn't act right; she wanted no parts of that life again. By the time she saw the red blinking sign in the window of a tiny wooden structure badly in need of paint she’d started to wonder if she would break an ankle on the rocks or collapse from thirst; FOOD TO LIVE BY - the sign read.
The lady with the full round face and an apron tied around her broad hips said her name was Ms. Pat. She was the only one there at this time of night, doing the baking for the next day, she said. She watched Mandy gulp down one Mountain Dew, then another, then told her to come on in the back and help her make a Mash Up Pie.
“If you mash up some navy beans, add enough sugar, butter, cream, nutmeg and cinnamon, you can make a mighty fine pie out of something that wasn‘t so great to start with.” Pat gave a wink and a nod at Mandy as she begin telling one of her life stories she used to reach out to wayward girls and women that came through the doors of her restaurant. Pat had started the story out by saying, just ’cause it starts out mashed up, don’t mean it can’t end up good, and went on to tell how she’d landed on skid row, poor and destitute after her husband died until a good samaritan helped her start her own restaurant - all the while turning the handle of a bean grinder. The handle turned a blade across the beans, smashing them and squeezing them through the colander-ed bottom making stringed tubes of curd that broke as they fell into the large bowl she used as a catcher. The finishing touches of Pat's tale had been delivered as the last of four pies was slid onto the oven rack. She shut the oven door and hit the switch that cast light across the wet pie fillings making them glisten through the oven glass.
Pat groaned as she stood up from the oven complaining about “this ole back.” She sat on the other tall bar stool at the cook’s counter next to Mandy.
“So, I decided to use this place as a way of giving back what had been given to me - hope and a second chance. So they call you Mandy, huh?”
Mandy answered shyly, “Yes ma’am.”
“Well you can’t be no more than fifteen or sixteen, but I bet you’ve lived much more than that lookin’ at’cha.
Mandy’s downward glance confirmed Pat‘s suspicion. She started talking again to ease the girl's discomfort.
“Yep, I was mashed up pretty good when Roland died. But the good Lord sent along some sugar, cream and butter and I made myself into a might fine pie.”
“Now when Pinky came along she’d been through so much that she was hard as rock candy on the outside but just as soft as pudding in the middle. So together we came up with a hard caramel glaze that we put on top of a crème éclair. To make it hers we added a little red food coloring and made the filling pink. We called it Soft Rock Pastry. Look there at that menu on the counter and you’ll see it there.”
Mandy picked up the single sheet of entries typed in the font style of an old typewriter. She read through the oddly titled listings and saw that each one gave a little description of what it was and how much it cost -all except one that gave no description nor a price.
“What about this one?” Mandy asked, pointing with a glued on sparkly fake fingernail at one of the entries.”
“I don’t have my reading glasses,” Pat replied. “What does it say?”
“It says, ‘It’s What You Make of It’.”
“Oh, that one. That one changes with each woman that comes in here with a story and a desire to make something better than what she's got so far. We come up with something together that she can live by then we name it and add it to the menu. That one is just like life, you know - open to all kinds of possibilities. So you figure out what you’d like to make of it, and we’ll get started on it.”
Mandy tilted her head to one side and thought for awhile before she spoke.
"You know Ms. Pat, when I was a little girl my nana used to hug me close to her chest and say, "Manda Panda, I wouldn't take fifty million dollars for you." I felt so special when she did that, like I was more precious than gold. But she's gone now, and I've been places and done things that made me forget that kind of love, and that feeling of being worth something. I want to feel like that again."
Ms. Pat had been listening intently and ideas were already swarming around in her head, but it was Mandy's job to decide.
"So what do you think you wanna call your What'cha Make of It, Mandy?"
Mandy smiled. "I wanna call it Nana's Gold."
Ms. Pat's face lit up as she hopped off the stool and beckoned to Mandy, "C'mon to the pantry with me. I've got the perfect thing in mind. Let's you and me see what we can make of it.