40: My Ferguson

40: My Ferguson

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: My Kind (of) America

My Ferguson

The life I touch for good or ill will touch another life, and that in turn another, until who knows where the trembling stops or in what far place my touch will be felt.

~Frederick Buechner

The Jenkins family traveled all over the United States. Cathy and Jerome sat in the front seat, the three kids piled in the back, and off they’d go. Everywhere they went, they checked out the food that was popular. Fish tacos in New Mexico. Jambalaya in New Orleans. Vienna sausages in Chicago. Asian wings in California. Pulled pork sandwiches in Memphis. After some meals, Cathy got the chance to talk to the cooks, and sometimes she got them to share their recipes. Along the way, they’d swim in the ocean, spend a few days at Disneyland, go hiking in the mountains . . . whatever was on their to-do list for that year’s trip.

So many fun-filled summers resulted in a little filing box crammed with new recipes, and Cathy and Jerome had a brilliant idea. Their kids’ elementary school — the school where I taught — was full of hungry teachers. We never had enough time to visit a fast food drive-thru during our lunch period. The Jenkins lived only two minutes from the school. Cathy could start a catering business.

It was an instant hit. We teachers loved eating Chicken Divan and Beef Bourguignon at lunch instead of peanut-butter sandwiches. Cathy loved getting the business, along with the compliments on her cooking. However, it wasn’t enough. Cathy Jenkins had a bigger dream.

She and her husband started looking for a building. The two of them wanted to open a restaurant. They lived in Ferguson, and their children went to Ferguson schools. They loved the Ferguson community. What better place for a restaurant than Ferguson?

Once they found the perfect place, they had a huge hurdle to clear. Major renovations were needed before they could open the doors. Jerome and Cathy had a décor in mind, and it involved painting a highway above the booths, framing pictures of the dishes they were going to offer, and sharing their family photos and cute mementos as part of the décor. They also needed to include a bar, kitchen, and service counter.

Cathy said to her husband, “How can we rent this place and fix it up when we won’t be making any money while we’re doing it?” She and Jerome had three kids. Their family was their first priority.

Fortunately, their landlord believed in their dream just like he believed in Cathy and Jerome’s determination. He told them, “Don’t pay me any rent until you’re open for a month. Then you can start paying on the place.”

Then Cortez Thomas entered the picture. Cortez was a McCluer High School student and an aspiring chef. In the months that the Jenkinses worked on transforming the building into Cathy’s Kitchen, Cortez showed up — sometimes several days a week.

“I’d like to work for you,” he’d say as he stood there in his chef’s apron and pants.

“We’re not even open yet.”

“I know, but when you are open, I’d like to be your pastry chef.”

“Honey, I’m sorry, but I’m going to bake all the pies here,” Cathy said.

On the first day that Cathy’s Kitchen was open, Cortez was back. He was dressed to work, and he’d brought along his pastry kit.

Cathy invited him to audition. “Here’s the recipe for my famous Dutch apple pie. Let’s see what you’ve got.”

When Cortez pulled the pie out of the oven, Cathy told me, “It looked prettier than my pie.” Cortez was hired on the spot, and when he graduated from high school, his high school sent him to culinary school — and paid his tuition.

Immediately, Cathy’s Kitchen became the spot for business lunches in the area. The teachers at my school — when we had an extended lunchtime — went to Cathy’s Kitchen and enjoyed the smoked salmon, Philly sandwiches and Italian beef. I loved the fish tacos with the lime-infused slaw, along with the tables that were painted with chalkboard paint. Kids doodled on the table while families waited for their food.

Things were going well with the lunch and dinner crowd. Business was good. In fact, it was so good, they began opening up for breakfast.

But then, in 2014, Michael Brown got killed in an altercation with a Ferguson police officer. Protests, stand-offs, tear gas, and SWAT teams turned Ferguson into a boiling pot. The once-peaceful community’s pain was splashed across the news every night.

After months of protests, the grand jury’s decision was announced. The officer involved in the shooting would not be indicted. The city of Ferguson erupted.

Stores were broken into and looted. Shops had been set on fire, and windows were shattered.

Early the next morning, I went to Cathy’s Kitchen. I knew they’d need help cleaning up. I just hoped the whole place wasn’t destroyed.

When I rounded the corner, much to my surprise, all I saw was some broken glass. Only a couple of windows had been broken.

Jerome and Cathy told me the story.

There had been looters gathered that night. Feeling like their lives didn’t matter, the protesters started taking their out-of-control rage out on the businesses in Ferguson. When they got to Cathy’s Kitchen, they came up against a chain of people. The loyal customers were locked, arm in arm, in front of the restaurant.

“Not here,” they said. “The owners of this place are good people.” They deterred the looters with a firm but positive message. Their clasped hands and connected hearts were more powerful than the mob’s anger.

In 2014, Ferguson got a reputation for being a dangerous city. During the 2016 election campaign, Donald Trump even called it one of the most dangerous cities in the world. I just wish everyone knew the Ferguson I know.

In the Ferguson I know, a family invested their sweat, time and money into a restaurant that’s bustling all day. In the Ferguson community I’m familiar with, a landlord lost out on some revenue so a dream could come true. In my Ferguson, a young man was given a chance to succeed. In the city of Ferguson that I love, people from all over came and swept up glass, cleaned up debris, and protected businesses from looting and destruction.

People are kind in America, and there are especially kind folks in Ferguson . . ..

~Sioux Roslawski

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