Monday, May 05, 2008

Family Diner:Miriam

I was talking to Marian at work today and found out that she went to Norristown High. That got me thinking about the girls I knew from Norristown with whom I worked at the Family Diner. I worked at the Diner from 1966-1969 from my sophomore through senior years of high school. Other than Lorraine, the girl for whom I had big time crush, the Norristown High girls weren't as significant to me as the older waitresses and hostesses.

I didn't much get along with my folks at this stage of my life, especially my dad. I would go out of my way to avoid him so I didn't have to talk to him. I would hang around the Diner on Sunday nights after finishing my shift and cadge a dinner there rather than eat with my family.

I didn't get along so well at school, either. I went to Devon Prep, run by an order of priests whose ideas of education were 19th century at the latest. I was a wise-ass, late sixties style, and most of the priests had a low threshold of tolerance for that kind of silliness. I was also a duck out of water, as Devon was a prep school and the majority of the kids came from money. Our family was not poor but outside of food, clothing and shelter, there were precious few amenities. Up to age 18, we had 4 family vacations and two of those were spent visiting relatives. To further differentiate me from the well-off kids, I was paying my own tuition. I had won a half-scholarship but if I wanted to go to Devon, I had to pay the other half. Mom and Dad didn't have the dough. It seemed like the right idea at the time... I doubt there were many prep school kids paying their own way, even half.

So the Diner provided a family of sorts for me, it was my safe haven. I was generally well liked and felt respected by the older workers. Even Joe the owner treated me pretty well -- better than he treated his customers, that's for sure. The workers included some mother figures, as well as women of very dubious character, some mostly tough girls from Norristown, later a bunch of high school guys who became my running mates and a lot of negative adult male role models. As you might guess, I learned more about life at the Diner than at school.

The first woman I want to write about was a waitress named Miriam. She was my favorite of all the waitresses. She worked 7-3, M-F. That meant that I only worked with her in the summers. If I had a day off school, I would make sure that I would come in for a soda or a cup of coffee during the slow times so I could sit at her counter and talk to her.

Miriam must have been in her 50s, as crusty as anyone I've ever known. She was not married at the time and I think she had never married. She didn't take any crap from "Mothers", as she would call them. If some guy gave her some crap at the counter, she would walk away sing-songing "They're Mothers, they're all Mothers". Most of the teen-age guys I worked with were scared of her. But Miriam was my buddy and she would listen to my bitching about my family. I don't think she had much in advice to offer but she'd listen, and that was a big deal to me.

Miriam was also Jewish, which made her an oddity at this Diner. She was the first Jewish person who I really knew. Our next door neighbors were Jewish but their kids were many years younger so we didn't interact.

The coolest thing about Miriam was that she smoked cigars. Not the big stogies, just Tiparillos. When I asked her why she smoked cigars, she said that it was because she didn't want to inhale. That made sense to me.

After I went away to school, and moved on to another summer job, I didn't see Miriam for a while. After a couple of years, I stopped in one morning and happened to catch Miriam on a break. Much to my surprise, she was smoking cigarettes. I immediately asked her why she was smoking cigarettes and she responded that she started inhaling the cigars, so she thought cigarettes would be better if she was going to inhale. That made sense to me.

Well, that turned out to be the last time I saw Miriam. Shortly after that, the owner bailed out and closed up shop. Years later, I looked in the phone book but it had no listing that could have been her. Since she'd be at least 90 at this point and maybe as much as 100, I doubt that I'm going to run into her again. So a belated thank you, Miriam, for befriending a dumb kid struggling to find his way.

No comments: