© Copyright 1998 by Sheryl Andre
The story of Martins' Restaurant is one of Sheryls Favorite childhood memories. Now that memory is preserved for the next generation.
Meat Loaf Special--99 cents
Lobster Salad Roll--$1.25
The front of our restaurant contained several huge windows. They had fancy writing on them telling about our specials, like advertisements. Sometimes Vic and I would hide behind displays and watch people go by.
Being part of a restaurant family meant lots of good food, whatever I wanted. It also meant that my parents spent incredible amounts of time running the place so that my 'family life' became a part of the restaurant. In 1953, they bought "Martin's Restaurant" at 342 Thames Street in Newport, R.I. and moved our family to a small apartment above.
The restaurant resembled a small diner and catered mostly to local business people. It boasted five red tables and a red counter with red vinyl stools that I loved to spin. My brother Vic, at three years old, could fit between the footrests and the underneath of the countertop as he moved along, trying to get all the stools to spin at once.
At the end of the row of tables stood a shiny pinball machine, its lights flickering, beckoning us to test our skill. Both Vic and I enjoyed standing on a chair and playing for hours, the flashing lights and ringing bells sounded as music to our ears. We inserted coins painted with pink nail polish and when the machine repair person came on his weekly run, he would return those pink coins to my parents. The music from the coin-operated juke box was frequently punctuated by the bells and dings from the pinball machine as we tried our best to become high scorers.
Mom ran the counter and tables with a little "help" from me as a dishwasher/gofer. (I even had my own dull tan uniform.) She also did a lot of the cooking in the kitchen, but dad ran the grill and fryalator. When we had our rush hour crowds, mom would handle waitressing for all the customers pretty much by herself and dad would prepare orders from foods already made and refrigerated until needed. Vic and I tried to stay out of the way, though regular customers enjoyed playing with us.
The red cobblestone street outside separated our restaurant from an electric shop and a fishing wharf. Seven Parascondola brothers owned the wharf and often came into our place to eat. When they had fresh fish or lobster, they would bring us a basket full and mom and dad would cook it for them for free. There were always plenty of leftovers for us and sometimes even for other customers. That is where I developed a taste for fresh fish and that is where I first learned to eat lobster.
Eating lobster is an acquired art form that is mostly lost on folks who live away from the ocean. The hard red body has tiny sharp points just waiting to prick a wary finger. The meat inside those mean-looking claws it sweet and tender as anything I have ever eaten. Mom taught me how to get tasty meat out of every part of the lobster, even those tiny little claws.
Anyone who ever saw mom eat lobster
would want to taste it too. She would enjoy every morsel, in spite of the
mess of empty claws and greasy butter all over the place. First she would
eat the juiciest part: the large claws, then she would suck out the meat
from those little claws. Then the tail, the part many people think is the
only part to eat, would be next. After all of that she would tear apart
the body and find more meat in the joints. Stuffed lobster, mom said, tasted
best because boiled ones lost some flavor to the water. Some people boil
them first to kill them and that changes the flavor too. Some years lobster
were scarce because storms chased them further out to sea.
I could get into trouble even without storms. One time, after pleading to help cook and getting no response, I decided to try it on my own. I grabbed the big meat cleaver dad used and ran my thumb along the edge to see if it was sharp enough. I had seen my dad do that dozens of times. Somehow I did it wrong though because I cut my thumb. I couldn't tell anyone because I knew I would get into trouble, so I retreated to the tiny bathroom in the rear of the kitchen and rolled my thumb up in my bright yellow dress. I prayed that it would stop bleeding soon. Fifteen minutes later, my dress began to resemble a yellow and red polka- dotted dress and I knew I had to tell someone. I quietly walked up to mom and showed her my finger. I thought she would pass out looking at the blood all over me, but she rallied and managed to get the bleeding stopped. Funny how Moms are so good at that.
We lived in two different apartments
above the restaurant. The first was a tiny two bedroom place where the
kitchen was also the living room. I remember one time when I brought a
girlfriend, Susie, up there, going against my father's strict rules. Susie
lived in the apartment building right next door to ours. As we played quietly
with our dolls, I heard dad's voice on the intercom.
"No dad. I am playing with my dolls." I answered quietly.
A short while later dad came thundering up the stairs. I rushed to hide Susie underneath my bed and went to try to head off an angry dad.
"I heard another voice here!" he shouted as he looked around. It only took him a minute to find Susie cowering under the bed.
"Go home and don't come back." he said, barely controlling his temper.
I got a good spanking and a week at home without friends. He was furious that I had lied to him. I learned that intercoms pick up a lot more noise than I thought they did. It wasn't until much later that I figured out how to shut the darn thing off but I never lied quite so obviously again.
The second apartment had three bedrooms. My bedroom was the biggest room in the place. One time we left the window open and a pigeon flew in there. Chasing him around was not fun. We managed to get him out without hurting him, but I ended up with Hitchcock - like nightmares for a while.
My brother and I had to walk through our parents' bedroom to get to the bathroom at night. Vic regularly had nightmares so he walked through there often in hopes of waking up someone who would protect him from his dreams. One night he woke my father so often that dad literally threw Vic back into bed and told him to stay there. Later that same night, I woke up to see my bedroom floor littered with kleenex. Vic was throwing kleenex my way hoping to wake me up! None of the tissues were within 5 feet of the bed, so he was very lucky I woke up at all.
I went to my first formal dance from that apartment, suffered through two sets of measles from there and even ran away from home while we lived there. It was a growing-up place that left lots of fond memories.
Sheryl Andre was born in 1945 just as World War II was ending. She has built up a large store of memories, some happy and some sad. Her travels have taken her all around the US on vacations and in various family moves. She has two beautiful children and has worked as a computer programmer/analyst. After fifty-some years she is now settled in Iowa and enjoys writing about days gone by. She is currently working on a "Memories Book" for her children and grandchildren.
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Another story by Sheryl: Dr. Happy