My Pappap was friends with the guy who owns Blue Flame, so we spent a lot of time there when I was growing up. It’s the sort of establishment where the food is consistent and if you go there enough times, you will eventually hear a Chuck Mangione tune. There used to be this section of two large round goldenrod booths that were sort of separated from the rest of the restaurant by low wooden walls; that’s where we would sit if my Pappap’s friends were there, and I always felt like I was sitting with the Mob, like I was a real 4-year-old big shot. All the waitresses knew my Pappap, so he would be real obnoxious with them, thwapping a fork off the side of his water glass to get their attention. They’d roll their eyes and exasperatedly ask, “What do you want, John?” but they’d always lose their faux-attitude long enough to dote on me, the shy little blond who was always there with her Pappap and treasured stuffed dog, Purple. I never even had to say what I was ordering. They just knew: grilled cheese. Every goddamn time.
And even when dining in a family restaurant, my Pappap would always order his glass of Lambrusco. We would go there often after church on Saturday nights, usually accompanied by my best friend Christy. She and I would always order the same thing, prompting the waitresses to call us the Bobsy Twins and causing my Pappap to rub his eyes tiredly and say, “Why don’t you girls try ordering something different. There’s an entire menu.” Then, Christy would almost always fail to finish her food, resulting in a good-natured chiding from my Pappap. God, I miss those days. (And not just because it was my pre-vegetarian times and that meal Christy and I always ordered in unison was a cheeseburger and fries. It was only a phase though, and I would soon go back to my true love – grilled cheese.)
Eschewing the five-star restaurants we could have easily chosen, Blue Flame is where everyone went after my Pappap’s funeral in ’96. We had the entire back room reserved and the waitresses (Monica was always my favorite) were absolutely beside themselves. A bunch of my friends were there with me and I remember feeling OK. It felt like the right place to be, full of comfort and familiarity; after the nightmarish days following my Pappap’s death, it was the one thing that had a calming effect on me.
I continued to go there in high school with my friends, but never with my family. It had always been this giant brick receptacle of good memories for me, all involving my Pappap, that I couldn’t bear to stop going there. I just couldn’t let go of it.
I think the last time I was ever in that big back room was the summer after my Pappap’s death, when Lisa and I paraded through with about fifteen of our friends and, much to the chagrin of every waitress on staff that night, pushed about five tables together and held (a very obnoxious) court right there in that same room where everyone had gathered post-grieving a few months prior. I was a little on edge, because the Blue Flame people knew me, and I didn’t want them to think I was an asshole, that my friends were assholes. Even though we were, of course. Since this was the height of my obsessive camcorder-carrying days, I have video of Lisa standing by the door as our friends filed into the room, repeating, “Erin said to be good. Erin said to be good.”
No one was good. We were complete fuckers and I have no idea how we weren’t kicked out that night.
Blue Flame has kind of gone downhill over the years. Not so much the food, but more of its popularity. The sons took over and there are times when I drive past and it looks like it’s closed for good; my stomach falls every time. Henry and I take Chooch there several times a year and, in a land of chain restaurants and fast food joints, never fail to be close to the only patrons who chose this hashery on Rt. 51 as the place to be fed. It makes me sad because I can vividly remember it being loud and bustling, so busy that all of the sections are open. Now, the back room almost always has the doors shut, with a sign propped in front that says “Section Closed” and the private little boothed-area has long since been gutted in favor of a salad bar. One of the worst things that place has ever done, if you ask me. I miss that little section with every last 1980’s-surviving piece of my heart.
Earlier in the week, we became aware that Chooch has two loose teeth. His dentist told us this over the summer, that they were slightly loose, but it didn’t seem noticeable to him so we sort of forgot about it. But last week, Henry and I both noticed that the two in the front had become VERY loose. Like, hopefully-he-doesn’t-swallow-them-in-his-sleep loose. He’s been messing with them all week, aggravating them with his finger, prodding them with his tongue.
We ate at Blue Flame for lunch on Saturday, after our first two choices were too crowded. We were in the area, and I shouted, “Oh, duh! Blue Flame!” We pulled into the lot and I was surprised to see it almost filled to the brim. Turns out it was just because there was a baby shower in the back room. (That’s almost where I had my baby shower, by the way, until someone snagged me a private room in a fire hall, where I could be more free to carry out my weird Halloween-themed activities. In March.)
Sometimes I still the old waitresses, like Monica and Mae, but typically they’re only there during the weekdays. Weekends are made up primarily of young high school waitresses, which is kind of a bummer. But on Saturday, we had this cute and extremely attentive quasi-scene girl waitress who didn’t fuck anything up and was always there when we needed her. She even made really non-irritating small talk and caused Chooch to blush and bury his face in my side.
And then, while eating his cheeseburger and fries, Chooch pulled out one of his teeth. Just gave it a good hard yank, and there it was, in between his two fingers, held up high for us to see.
I gagged a bit and Henry gave me that stern “DON’T SCARE HIM!!!” look that he’s had no choice but to master over the years. But Chooch wasn’t freaked out. In fact, he was pretty stoked and asked, “Am I a grown-up now?” Then the waitress came over, noticed the commotion, and exclaimed, “Did you lose a tooth?!” Chooch looked so proud. And also extremely embarrassed, as he always does when pretty older girls pay attention to him.
Seriously, what a perfect place for him to lose his first tooth – in a restaurant that already is bursting with memories and affable childhood ghosts. I kept tearing up all day when I would think about the poetic happenstance of it all. (Sort of crying a little right now, too.)
Luckily, I almost have at least one empty plastic gumball toy container in my purse, which ended up being the perfect tooth vessel. (Especially later that night when his second tooth fell out in the car. He officially has a Cindy Brady-lisp now.)
We were walking to the car after I paid the bill when Henry said, “You left her a big tip, didn’t you?” When I just silently shrugged, he said, “You did,” and then laughed. What? She was an awesome, young waitress who was there to see my kid lose his first tooth. It’s what my Pappap would have done.