For years, she ran a little cafe` in my hometown called Freda's Cafe. The story goes... when my dad went for the business license and was asked what the name was, he said, "Hell, I don't know... she's the one who wants the darn thing, call it Freda's Cafe." So they did. Of course, it was also dad (while driving back to Kansas) who stopped to eat in another local restaurant called Mother's Kitchen... Ma Haynes (the owner) had a sign in the window that said "cook wanted" and my dad talked her into hiring my mom, sight unseen (I can only imagine her surprise when he got home and said, "I got you a job, we're moving to a little town in southern Colorado!").
Freda's Cafe. It was a typical small town cafe'... but it was extraordinarily good. Comfort food. Two homemade specials a day - Ham and Beans, Meatloaf with Mashed Potatoes, Chicken Fried Steak - always fresh and piping hot. Homemade pies with clouds of meringue and lightly browned tips shining in the display cases (she must have made 20 or more pies a day). Small tables lining the outer walls with seating for a family of four or a pair of couples out for the evening. Small, glass jukeboxes dotted the counter with flip cards and push buttons. Naugahyde stools. Hot rolls, fresh donuts, hand-cut fries (I liked curlicue) were staples.
Freda's Cafe. The waitresses - Velma, Kay, Phyllis, and Norma Jean - all wore starched uniforms (dad was known to ask them to go home and iron if necessary), frilly aprons, and hairnets. Mom did the same. Her gray hair was neatly pulled into the mesh net, held in place with thin elastic and the rims of her black glasses. Since she was the cook, her apron was always white (unless it was a special day and she dressed a bit fancier - then it was embroidered calico or flowered cotton), always a touch of Pink Carnation lipstick from Avon. The waitresses had their own table in the back corner. They'd sit down for a break, grab a Pall Mall from their cigarette cases waiting silently on the table (the kind with the fancy silver snaps). They'd have a quick smoke. And laugh! Count their tips.
Freda's Cafe. One of the first things I remember learning to read was the menu. Even when I was little, mom would sometimes let me load the typewriter with two sheets of paper (purple carbon paper sandwiched between) to type out the daily specials. Ham and Beans with fresh cornbread ........................................ $2.00 (typing the dots was fun). Patiently, she taught me to capitalize the letters, put in spaces, etc. I remember sitting at the counter, flipping through the songs, reading the charts, and begging for a dime to play Big Bad John by Jimmy Dean. In 1967, I learned sight words like don't, sleep, in, the, subway, darling, it's, such, a, pretty, world, today... simply by reading the hits that were waiting to be played. I'd make fake tickets on green and white pads of paper.
Freda's Cafe. I remember the decorative plates (one from every state) and college banners that lined the high ceilings. I remember my 9th birthday when mom decorated a table in the restaurant and served my friends hamburger deluxes and all the "Big Red" we could drink. I remember flicking a piece of bubblegum off my knife and it hitting a customer in the back of her neck (um, mom was NOT happy, I was bored). I remember playing in the empty apartment upstairs four hours. I remember going to the basement to fetch vegetables or canned goods for mom (it was scary). I remember when she'd hear a certain whistle, she knew the "train crew" was stopping the train to run up the street for a quick "whistle stop" meal. I remember watching her stand at the workstation my dad built and shout out orders as they were ready to serve.
Freda's Cafe. I remember the phone call. "Your restaurant is on fire!" And, the fear in mom and dad's eyes as they dashed out the door to go see the devastation. I think that's when I developed my fear of fire. But, like the resourceful folks they were, it wasn't long until they had the whole thing remodeled and up and running again. A fresh start. The grand "reopening" was a hit! I think Mom got more flowers that day than she did at her funeral!
Freda's Cafe. If I close my eyes right now, I can still picture her there, a small bead of perspiration on her forehead. Hard working. Amazing cook. Steam-covered glasses. So, Happy Birthday, Freda! Until next year...