Once or twice a month the kids and I go out for lunch. We all love this tradition, especially because we tend to do this on the spur of the moment, in a way that makes it feel like a special surprise. The most recent lunch occasion was right after visiting John & Will. First stop was the Post Office. Taking the key and heading to the squat little 1960's post office building to open our box and look for the day's mail is one of Fiona's favourite jobs. You can see that she is joyfully skipping her way up the street with Sophie. We mail-order a lot, so sometimes there will be a parcel. Sometimes there are magazines for the kids, and once or twice a week a Zip DVD arrives. It's always exciting to see what's in the mail, even if it's just "boring doctor stuff."
Generally speaking we alternate between our two favourite restaurants. One of the two is a sort of phantom restaurant. It is a home-based soup-making business that takes over a summer-time restaurant owned by someone else every Wednesday during the off-season, serving its own simple fare. It's open for three hours once a week and that's it. There is usually the choice of two different soups, and on a good day there may be one other choice. There are beverages and a few cookies and brownies to choose from but nothing else. Payment is by cash only. By mid-afternoon on Wednesday the place is empty and closed up and you'd never know that there had been thirty locals crowding their way in for some of the best soup they'd ever tasted -- and a coming-out-of-the-winter-woodwork social event that has friends who might not have seen each other for a month or two greeting each other, sharing news and complaining about the snow and the muddy ruts on their mountain laneways.
But if it's not Wednesday when we surprise ourselves with lunch out, we go to the other café, the one that's been around for many years and is a local institution. The Apple Tree has a lovely little garden and picnic benches where people eat when the weather is warm, but at this time of year, the indoor tables suffice. There's a cozy wood stove, and an owner and staff who have a lot of fun with their jobs. This is a café with a lot of personality. Click on the photo to see an enlargement of the sandwich-board sign for a glimpse of the personality of the place. Informal and formal community meetings are often held at the Big Table, arrangements are made, messages are left, news is exchanged and the wheels that move our community are greased.
We've been going there for lunch every month or two for so long that the staff knows us well. Chuck rarely joins us for lunch, but on one memorable occasion I wasn't there and he was trying to order on the kids' behalf at the counter -- and the staff filled him in on what he should be asking for. "They'll have 'Burkholder Bagels' -- sesame bagels with half orders of cream cheese, toasted, and with a dill pickle on the side. And usually limonatas."
There is no fast food where we live. In the summer, tourism kicks in and the Apple Tree gets crowded but things don't speed up. Sometimes, at the height of summer, we have to wait more than half an hour after ordering for our sandwiches, and we have to share our picnic table with other people. The café is tiny and the owner has no interest in expanding his business; like so many people in our area, he's here because he has found a pace and simplicity of life that suits him. He isn't about to let "success" upset that balance. It was less than a year ago that he finally caved in and began accepting something other than cash as payment. "Welcome to the 21st century," I commented, noticing the little debit card rig on the counter. "No, I think it's 'welcome to the 1980's,'" he replied. Indeed.