Deja Vu For The Soul

Having tossed dough and pressed pizza pies in the evenings throughout high school, I acquired a talent that still serves me to this day (as in “Hey, Dad! Make us a pizza!”). The skill set was kept sharp during my college summers as well. The re-hire process always went the same way:

During spring break, I would stroll into the famous old joint known as Pizza King, and it was as if the prodigal son had returned. The cook would come out of the back and hug me, the odor of meatloaf and mashed potatoes clinging to my shirt long after I left. The pock-faced, troubled 16-year-old dishwasher would extend a moist hand and manage a smile. The owner would come out of the back, acting indifferent and counting a wad of cash to remind me, “I didn’t need no college to fill my wallet.” The banter would be light. I answered the same question each time another face came around the corner. “Yeah, it’s going pretty well.” And then that moment of relief would arrive. “You wanna come back for a couple months this summer, Ronnie? We could use ya.” I would nod slowly after shrugging, like the thought never occurred to me, and say, “Uh … yeah, sure, I guess.”

And again, the same predictable response: “Hey, terrific–call me when you get home in May, huh?” And I did, and in a few days, I was back on the schedule and in familiar territory, throwing pizza in the air and flirting with young women picking up carry-out orders. It was as welcoming as being back in my own bed for three months. There’s nothing in this world like the comfort of familiarity.

I was always amazed how much I looked forward to that simple process of coming home, punching in at the old pizza joint, and seeing all the faces I had grown up with. I was proud of what I was doing, happy to be telling people I was away at college, but just home for the summer. There was “wholeness” to it. It had a Norman Rockwell feel, and I knew it then just as sure as I see it in retrospect now.

An Old, Familiar Scene

One day this past winter, I took my wife and son Sam to a small breakfast place in Fairview, Ohio. There are eight tables and an old-fashioned barstool counter that seats 10. We sat at the bar that looked straight into the kitchen. It was somewhat cramped and tight, but full of that old-time charm I crave. We ordered a pile of food, and began downing coffee and hot chocolate when a little gal–I’d guess about 19–came in with a red, runny nose and an apologetic smile. She stood by the heat register and warmed up while she waited to be recognized; lo and behold, a familiar scene played out in front of my eyes.

“Is that Miss College Girl I see out there?” the owner shouted from the kitchen. Out she came and gave a big hug. “How is school?” The two waitresses on the floor overheard the ruckus, and came to the register with muffled screams and big hugs. “How is school?” The college girl nodded, smiled, and said, “It’s going really good,” through tears. I sat there, hoping she wasn’t a English major, but taking it all in just the same. After a few minutes, the waitresses gravitated back to the floor, the owner said she would visit as soon as she finished what she was doing, and Miss College Girl stood idle for a moment, but she couldn’t fight the temptation, knowing what needed to be done. She filled my coffee and cleared several dishes.

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