Baby Boomer, Phoenix, Arizona
When Charli Mills posted a piece the other day based on a fellow Rough Writer’s memoir challenge, my own writing juices immediately started simmering. A link led me to Irene Waters’ Times Past blog, where Irene has started a new monthly challenge for writers. What immediately marked this challenge as something special was its sociological bent. Participants are asked to state which generation they belong to at the beginning of their piece, so that in responding to the prompts, and reading others’ posts, writers will gain “social insights into the way the world has changed between not only generations but also between geographical location.” The first prompt is one that has been the crux of numerous conversations I’ve had with fellow Baby Boomers, most of whom have vastly increased their incidence of dining out since childhood. Here’s the prompt: The first time I remember eating in a restaurant in the evening.
The prompt immediately sparked a memory from about 1968. I was twelve and feeling very grown up with my stylish pageboy haircut and straight lime-green shift with a faux belt at the hip. I may even have worn fishnet stockings that night, held up with that queer relic called a garter belt. My mother had only recently allowed me and my twin sister to advance to a one-inch heel on our shiny patent-leather shoes.
It was some special occasion, perhaps my parents’ anniversary or my mother’s birthday. The seven of us had piled into my father’s boat-like Chrysler sedan for the ride over to Giordano’s Italian Restaurant on Central Avenue—upscale indeed compared to Sunnyslope. Russ Giordano was a friend of my father’s, a fellow veteran from the VFW club (Veterans of Foreign Wars). Along with our church, Most Holy Trinity, the Club constituted my parents’ primary social circle.
The Chrysler was a recent luxury. My father’s paint-splotched Dodge pickup had served for some time as both his work vehicle (he earned his living painting houses all across the rapidly growing “Valley of the Sun,” as Phoenix is still referred to) and our family transportation. It was in the bed of that pick-up that we five kids had, until recently, ridden to our modest suppers out. Those were at one of two places in the north part of town where we lived, Sunnyslope, at both of which our play clothes were entirely respectable:
The most regular spot was the fish fry in the big hall at the Monfort post of the VFW Club on Friday nights, where permed and padded-hipped women called us “Hon” and sashayed loaded paper plates to the long folding tables. We squirmed on our metal chairs just long enough to eat, like skittish colts, the din of voices ricocheting off bare walls. Nickels for the pop machine embedded themselves in our grubby, hot palms. A hulk of a bald man named Tiny could be seen through the cut-out window at one side, manning the sizzling fryers. Our hunger pangs subdued, we were off to the park across the street, but not without searching out the wizened old vet who always teased us through a little box on his throat.
My family’s other go-to spot was the Northway Fish & Chips in Sunnyslope, where we dug into flimsy cardboard boxes of (yet again) deep fried cod squares or chicken or splayed butterfly shrimp served with a white bun and limp French fries. We gathered round a picnic bench under a festoon of fishing nets and glass baubles, jockeying for a place in the jetstream of damp air blowing from the swamp cooler .
That was before the change. Before the advent of my parent’s business venture. Before the five-bedroom, ranch-style house with the pool. The new Chrysler sedan and matching bedroom sets bought at auction.
And . . . a first grown-up dinner at Giordano’s on Central Avenue in Phoenix. The sophistication of the dimmed lights, the white linen tablecloth, the glass water goblets, the chilled oval tray of chilled crudités (celery sticks, radishes, carrots and fat green olives with pimentos) and salad served before something called an entrée. I sat straight and proper on my heavy wooden chair, dabbing the corners of my mouth with a cloth napkin.
Just as I had surely seen some actress do on TV .