When my mom decided she wanted to move from Montreal to Toronto, she came and stayed with me for a month, while she looked for an apartment.
The area where I lived at the time, Av & Dav as the locals call it (Avenue Road and Davenport), was and still is known for a one-block-long strip of shops selling flowers and plants and a diner, the Avenue Diner. They’re landmarks, and not just in that specific ‘hood. Cars are double and triple parked outside the flower shops on weekends, people come from all over the city. And the diner, which has always been owned by the same family, has been there since 1944. Nothing, by the way, has changed. The counter’s the same, the stools are the same, the tables and chairs are the same, the menu’s the same.
My mother loved the diner and she and I used to go regularly, most Sunday mornings for breakfast, before she actually moved to Toronto (and even after). She ended up living pretty close to me — only a 10 to 15-minute drive away and she liked the diner so much, she used to often go there for lunch, either alone or with her friends.
Once I happened to be in there by myself, for some reason my mom couldn’t come. The owner, Louis, asked me where my mother lived, and also for her phone number. When I asked why, he told me that she loved their mushroom barley soup — which they made from scratch, but not every day. They served it once or twice a week.
He knew how much she liked it, so he wanted to be able to let her know when it would be on the menu — and he also wanted to send her some so she could have it at home. Which he did, you should know. The cook used to bring it to her on his way home. My mother never asked them to do it, they offered. That’s just how kind and sweet and thoughtful they were.
Because my mother was often in my neck of the woods, she decided to open her bank account at a bank that is located diagonally across the street from the diner.
It’s not my bank, but last week I did have to go in there. When I was done, I realized I was hungry. No wonder, it was about 1:30. Although there are several restaurants in the area, and good ones, I decided to go to the diner. I haven’t been there for a very long time.
As I pulled open the door, I could see Louis, standing behind the counter, in exactly the same spot he’s always been in (near the cash register). Same smile, same warm greeting, same hug. He still remembers me, after all these years. He reminisced about my mom and his eyes got a little watery.
Like all neighbourhoods everywhere, Av & Dav has changed since I first moved there 19 years ago (and moved away 16 years ago). And from what I could see, the Avenue Diner has a whole new group of “regulars.”
But the affection Louis has for them — which is reciprocated — is the same as it was when I was one of his regulars. There’s still a lot of bantering going on, still a lot of laughing and joking, still a lot of nudging and fist bumping. He and his customers still get to know each other, and each others’ families. Louis still knows whose kids are off to University, whose kids are getting married and having babies, who needs hip surgery, who just started a new job, whose parents have passed away — and vice-versa.
Call me crazy, but I think there’s something very comforting in that.