Sunday, August 21, 2016

The Inwood: A Walk in Memory

The Inwood

(A Walk in Memory)

Barely old enough to remember it, but

I wasn’t old enough to stay by myself

Away from home, away from Mommy,

Even with Nana, as I was proving

In this memory. Who would have known

Then, I would later live here, learn here,

Learn to lead here in my path of following?

But here I sit in the very spot, in what is

An early landmark in my life. Do I

Remember it or have I just been

Reminded, at every event of meaning

That followed: toasts at my wedding,

Jokes at gatherings, the needlings

Of love, made solid by time and stories

Like these? I was excited, or as Nana says,

“You were so proud, teasing your sister,

“I get to stay with Nanny, I get to stay,”

In that high pitched nasally twang of

Little brother sassing, “and you have

To go to school!” We had so many plans

You and I,” she would say. And we did.

We went up in the attic to get my uncle’s

Toys, and we went shopping to get all

My favorite snack foods, Mommy liked

To limit, and she bought me a record,

The kind that tells a story and comes

Folded in the story book.  Aristocats,

I can see it clearly. She also read me

A book before bed, “Jerry so liked

The Sugar Hill Gang.” Sometime after

Bed and story and the tucked in kiss,

It started—the fit. Tears flying, sadness,

Anger, “I want my Mommy! I want

My Mommy! You’re not my Mommy!”

And the phone call was made. “You

Have to come get him. . . Silence. . .

 Can you meet me half way. . . Silence

. . . The Inwood.  . . Silence. . . Yeah,

Right there in Gordonsville.” Click,

And with that click the tears were

Gone, and the smile returned. Nanny,

And I on a road trip. My memory

Is foggy on the rest of the story, maybe

Because the embarrassing parts have

Already been told, but I remember now,

As I sit here awaiting my cheeseburger,

Sipping a sweet tea, in this spot, something

Cemented in my mind. I see here in what is

A perfect picture of what was, etched enough

Into my mind’s photo bank—more like

A negative than a print—this very place,

And I can testify to its sameness, not from

Some ignorant knowing prejudice of its

Old fashioned simple style, nor from the wear,

The years have left—scars, scratches, marks,

Faded paint and curtains—but from true

Experience, too young to bring to mind,

But deeply felt. It makes you wonder just

How much of an impact places have on us,

Places connected to narratives of our lives

To which we have no words. I only can

Bring this forward because returning here

The words and feelings have collided. Wow,

And all I was seeking was a cheeseburger

To fill my belly, tickle my tastebuds, and

Defy my ever closing arteries one more time,

During my lunch break from bulletins

And sermons, or care notes and phone calls.

I look around, trying to fill in the negative,

To enter the dark room, to process the image

And develop the print into something I can

Share. To walk in here is to go back in time,

Lunch counter, where you can see the griddle,

Hear the sizzle, and smell the bacon frying.

It actually hits you in the face, the aromatic

Collection of decades of grease. Green plastic

Leather barstools—I can feel myself sitting

On one as we waited for mom and dad, and

You can’t sit without spinning, and I distinctly

Remember a wobble. The footboard is raised,

Metal, sitting below faded—is it pink and peach

Striping?—though the stain is black from years

Of patrons and their feet. “The Inwood Restaurant

Welcomes You! God Bless You! In God we

Trust,” and a reference to Psalm 118. I think,

“May we all give thanks. May we take the time.”

An old white sign still hangs on the wood

Paneling; in red 80’s t-shirt letters, “We are

Not a fast-food restaurant. We appreciate

Your patience, while we prepare your meal,

Especially for you!” and then in personalized

Script, “Thank You.” I think to myself,

“I can make that trade—my time, a few

Moments for a meal prepared with loving

Thanks especially for me.” I can’t help but

Wonder how many hurried people, unwilling

To make the trade, were impatient enough

To predicate such a firm statement from those

Loving angels, as another sign rightly dubs

These cooks and servers. I feel sorry for hurried

People living in a world that moves so fast.

When did It happen? When did life speed up

And pass this place by? Though not all of life,

Surely, has passed her by, for thankfully,

Here she still stands. Another faded poster hangs

To the right, ironically, stubbornly, beautifully,

Standing in the face of the arrogance of progress;

A picture of a dogsled team of Huskies saying,

“If you can’t run with the Big Dogs, stay on

The porch.” The old girl knows she is still big

Enough to keep running after all these years.

“Nothing stirs the soul like the face of Irony,”

Keep fighting, old girl, somehow we need you.

Below and around the sign are the pictures

Of angels past. The faces fade left to right into

The present: bangs and curls, puffed, and big

To flat pulled back ponies, the tails and tshirts

Of today, intermingled with baby portraits. Are

These kids grown? Do they own one of the

Pulled back ponies? Have they become the new

Generation of angels? Are they adults, who

As children were marked by this place by more

Tangible memories than I? Around the pictures,

Below the sign and poster are fire and police

Patches, from all over, spanning time and place.

They stand as merit badges, exchanges of service

And respect. I tried to count them, as I started

My food came, but there must be at least forty,

No probably fifty. Nah, a number like forty-seven

Or fifty-three is more likely, more random than

Square, for these were gathered over time, with

No set plan. It started with one simple gesture,

And grew as these things seem to do in real life.

To the far right just below the empty space

Where more patches could be placed, is the

Salad bar, complete with iceberg lettuce, pickled

Beets, and the red colored crunchy bacon bits,

And another sign that prohibits salad sharing,

And another one reminding you to always use

A clean plate. Experience in life leads to many

Rules I guess because these signs are all over

The place. They stand as loving reminders, as

If to say, “Though we are angels, we just won’t

Put up with no foolishness. Don’t let these

Halos fool you. There are limits to the notion

That the customer is always right, so stay

In your lane, and there won’t be any problem!”

Remember, “Seat yourself!” “No Smoking!”

“No Checks!” “No one behind the counter,

Except Employees!” It is fair enough, and we

As customers should be willing to give that

Requisite respect, at the very least. Delicious,

My especially for me made cheeseburger

Was delicious, and it came with a smile.

I don’t think we ate, Nana and I, as we

Waited all those years ago, but maybe we

Had some sweet tea. It warms my heart

To know in a world where so much spins

Daily out of control, a few simple things

Stay the same, and allow us to realize how

Interconnected our lives truly are, and the

Retracing of our steps can give us insight

Into who we are, no matter how fragmented

Our lives seem, and how spread our travels

Take us. It is just a blip on the map, a road

Side restaurant, where many have eaten,

But for me it is more than that, it is a living

Memory, and as Psalm 118 reminds us,

I shall of course ever remain deeply thankful.

Rev. Peter T. Atkinson
Pastor, Gordonsville Presbyterian Church