Sunday, March 29, 2009

It's the Food, Stupid!

Lawrence - My Hometown

“It’s the food, stupid”

By Richard E. Noble
It was a cold December night. A bunch of us had bundled up in a booth up at the Tally-ho. The Tally-ho was on Swan St. It had become a great place to hangout for the post high school and young adult crowd. Older folks came in too but they used the back entrance. They had a section of their own – away from the younger noisy bunch.
The Tally-ho was a sports bar before there was such a thing as a sports bar. There were TVs stationed appropriately in all the dining rooms and several at the bar. If anything was happening with Boston sports, it would be on the TVs at the Tally-ho. It was a great place to go to watch a Red Sox, Celtic or a Bruins game - lots of enthusiastic chums to cheer with. Paul Margraff was the owner/manager/bartender/waiter/sandwich maker etc. during my era.
We were playing forty-fives at our booth. Forty-fives was a card game indigenous to Lawrence and the greater Merrimac Valley. Anyone I met in my travels who knew how to play the game of forty-fives had roots in the old neighborhood.
On this particular occasion an old buddy came walking through the door. We all looked up from our card game and recognized our old grammar school chum. In typical Lawrence fashion someone said, “Hey Billy, long time no see.”
“Yeah, about 15 years.”
“Has it been that long?”
“You’ve been gone 15 years? I didn’t even know you had left town,” offered another astute Lawrence observer at the table.
“Oh yeah, a little over 15 years now.”
“Where have you been?”
“Well, all over but I settled in California for the last 10 years or so.”
“What are you home for Christmas to see the relatives?”
“No I’m back for good.”
“You’re back for good! What are you crazy? You finally get out of this town and you actually come back here to live? What are you nuts?”
Billy laughed. “Yeah, I suppose I am.”
“No seriously, you were settled out there in beautiful California. You were there for 10 years, you say, and you come back to Lawrence? There has got to be something wrong. Somebody in the family must be sick or something?”
Billy laughed again. “No, not really. Everybody is doing fine. Just got a little homesick I guess.”
Each of us at the card table dropped our hand and we all looked up at our old buddy.”
Homesick was not a term that many of us used in reference to Lawrence.
“You got homesick? What the heck could get anybody homesick for Lawrence? I know many people who said that their home in Lawrence made them sick but I never heard anybody say that they were homesick for Lawrence. What could you possibly miss about Lawrence?”
“Well, guys like you for one thing. I kind of missed having four different seasons too. But I guess what I missed most of all about Lawrence was the food.”
“The food! They don’t have food in California?”
“They have food but nothing like the food that we have here in Lawrence. No Tally-ho chicken bar-b-que, no Lawton’s by the Sea deep-fried hotdogs, no Bea’s cutlets, no Bishops, no Ceder Crest, no Bungalow, no Pappy’s bakery, no anchovy or pepperoni crispellies. They never even heard of lemon slush or a Black Moon ice cream on a stick for cryin’ out loud. Why, the homemade bread alone is worth the trip to Lawrence.
“There is a bakery on every corner around here. You want fresh baked Polish bread, you go down to Sunkist Bakery on Exchange St. You want Italian bread, you go down to Jackson or Common Streets. They have four bakeries at one intersection - one on each corner down there. You want French bread, you’ve got it. You have home baked Syrian bread everywhere. You have German restaurants, French restaurants, Syrian restaurants, Italian restaurants, and Chinese Restaurants. Even the diners around here are great - the Broadway Diner, Ritzie’s, Jubert’s, Falon’s, the Post Office Diner with Rudy, Ernie’s Diner and Mushy’s famous baked beans.
“I have been dreaming about a homemade pastry square for years. Where else can you get fresh backed fig squares, raisin squares, lemon tarts and Napoleons? I bought an Italian meat pie up on Broadway the other day. You can’t find a meat pie like that anywhere in America but Lawrence. Fould’s French pork pies, hot or cold - a little ketchup and you’re in business. I’ve never seen a pie like that any place but here. Kibbie and shish kabob sandwiches, Tripoli and Christie’s home-style Italian pizza, Essem hotdogs and Polish kielbasa, Barrett’s tomato sausage - you guys are all used to it. You take it all for granted. But let me tell you, they don’t have food like this in other places.”
So you will put up with ten feet of snow and a million people huddled in tenement houses for a homemade cruller or jelly donut? You’re easy.”
“Yeah, that’s what the girls always said. Hey, I was raised in a tenement house. There are worse places to live than a tenement house. Tenement houses don’t make slums – people do. When I was coming up around here we had no central heat or air-conditioning. We didn’t even have hot water. If you wanted a bath you had to heat the kettles up on the stove. Now all these tenements got heat, air, hot water - what the hell?”
Mr. Danny Tardugno, a little gray haired fellow who worked behind the bar at the Tally-ho for years, called out Billy’s sandwich order.
“You better go get those sandwiches, Billy, before the Tally-ho stops making burgers.”
“Yeah, like that’s ever goin’ to happen. Take care guys. I’ll see ya the next time I get hungry.”
“Good enough pal.”

Richard E. Noble was raised in Lawrence, Mass and is now a freelance writer. He has published five books. Two of them have Lawrence as their setting, A Summer with Charlie and Honor Thy Father and Thy Mother. A Little Something is a book of poetry partly inspired by life in Lawrence. Hobo-ing America, is a workingman’s tour of the U.S.A. The Eastpointer is selected pieces from his award winning column about life in a sleepy fishing village in the Florida Panhandle.