94: Last Call

94: Last Call

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Find Your Happiness

Last Call

Begin at the beginning and go on till you come to the end; then stop.

~Lewis Carroll

The ring of our home phone jolted me from my reminiscing and forced me back to reality. My husband was asking if I had made the calls. He was busy, serving up the last supper for his faithful customers, and it was my job to extend the invitations for last call to family and friends. With each phone call, I could feel my throat swell and my stomach tighten. I managed to stifle my tears and keep the phone conversations short and light, even cheery.

Soon it was time to go to the restaurant. When I arrived, my husband was still finishing up the dinner hour. Our guests trickled in looking a little shell-shocked. We put them at ease, maintaining our position as hosts. This night was for savouring our memories and making new ones, a night to party like it was the good old days.

It was a night of lasts. There was one last dance on the table, one last night for the kids to fill their own fountain drinks, and eventually, one last call. Throughout the evening we all had our cameras out. We sat, we talked, we joked and we laughed. It was a bittersweet night we’ll always remember fondly.

We had known for some time that it was inevitable. After seventeen years, the time had come to close the doors of our family restaurant. We had longed for a miracle but the recession had been the nail in the coffin.

Seventeen years earlier, the restaurant had just been a new, friendly roadhouse that was close to my office. For the owner it had been an exciting new business venture. After frequent visits, it became obvious that the place had a magical charm. It was difficult to drive by without stopping in. I didn’t know it then, but the owner, a large, loud man with rogue Irish charm, would one day become my husband.

Before we settled down to child rearing and marriage, there were many late nights of unabashed good times. If we weren’t dancing to the jukebox hits, or singing karaoke, we were sending requests to the live performers. The music and the dancing were just the icing on the cake. What made the place truly great were the people. The distinction between staff and customers was fuzzy. We were all friends. Often you’d find the staff on the other side of the counter on their days off.

Times change and people move on. Such is the nature of the business. Many people drifted through and as life circumstances changed, so did the faces of the staff and customers. It seemed one day my daughter was playing pranks on the staff, and before we knew it, she was one of them. When our first son was born our late nights were curtailed, and instead, many afternoons were spent in “our booth.” When the next baby boy arrived the first one was ready for a high chair. From pabulum in the beginning to ordering their own whole lobsters as teenagers, these boys ate well.

It was also the venue for many celebrations, including my wedding shower, our sons’ christenings, many birthday dinners and of course, New Year’s Eve. St. Patrick’s Day was a favourite celebration and often we would host an Irish band to put us in the celebratory mood. Even the year we couldn’t secure a band to play the Irish ditties, the Caribbean calypso band somehow worked. It was also the last stop for many customers on Christmas Eve, and it was there that the magical calm of the evening would hit us. There were other, more solemn, celebrations.

How could we part with our past, our present and what we thought was our future? When we finally did come to grips with the fact that closing was our only choice, we did not belabour the decision. Once made, we were catapulted into a cyclone of surreal events that spun much too quickly. Through it all, and behind our masks of optimism, we feared for the unknown and reflected lovingly on the past.

It has been a year since we shut down the restaurant. Closing a business you’ve put your heart and soul into for so many years is really tough. But when it is no longer profitable, no matter how much you love the place, you have to let it go. The digital images from that last night already appear distant and detached. We are looking forward to new beginnings, new endeavours. Life is full of many twists and turns. We’ve learned to enjoy everything we have and not lament over what we don’t. We’ve learned how important it is to just keep moving — keep dancing — since last call comes much too quickly.

~Maureen Flynn

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