Wednesday, May 06, 2009

Lawrence - My Hometown

The Cedar Crest Restaurant

By Richard E. Noble
The Cedar Crest Restaurant must be considered another Lawrence landmark. I don’t know if it is still in business but I know that it was going strong just a few years back. I know because I had a customer down here in the Florida Panhandle who was from Lawrence. He was a “snowbird” as they call such folks down here. He came for the winter. He would give me a report every year on what was happening up in Lawrence.
The Cedar Crest was a diner on one side and a sit-down family restaurant on the other. It was a neat place. As a child I ate there only once. My family didn’t have much money and we didn’t eat out often. In fact, that one meal that we had at the Cedar Crest is the only childhood dining out experience that I can remember. My father who had been working as a Merchant Marine finally got a local job working at the new Merit gas station on Broadway across from the Arlington Mill. It was a big event. My father hated going off to sea. To find local employment was monumental. He wanted to give us all a treat. We got spiffied up in our Sunday clothes and we were off to the Cedar Crest.
I got fried chicken. After I finished my chicken the waitress brought me a bowl. The bowl had lemons floating in it. My mother often made me a drink with lemons in it when I was sick with a cold. I couldn’t understand why they had put my hot lemon drink in a bowl as opposed to a cup. I picked it up with both hands and started to drink it. It wasn’t hot and it wasn’t sweet. The waitress leaned over and whispered in my ear, “You don’t drink it, honey. You wash your fingers in it.”
As workingmen me and my two buddies, Jack Sheehy and Frank Duchnowski ate in the diner side of the Cedar Crest often. We would meet there after work. We even had a favorite waitress. She became our favorite because of one incident.
We had rushed in at supper time after cleaning somebody’s cellar or something. The waitress brought our menus. We each picked up a menu and she stopped instantly. “What have you guys been doing?” she asked. We all looked at one another curiously. What did she care what we were doing? That wasn’t a typical waitress question.
“Well, it doesn’t really matter what you’ve been doing. You guys ain’t ordering anything until you get into that bathroom and wash your hands.”
“What are you my mother?” Dutchy protested.
“Don’t give me none of that. Get into that bathroom and wash your hands or it’s no supper for any of you.”
The three of us looked at each other. Dutch shrugged, then got up and headed for the bathroom, mumbling - me and Jack followed.
I guess we liked the personal attention because we asked for that waitress from then on. When she came to our table we would all hold out our hands for her inspection. She would nod her approval and then take our orders. I must admit, I thought that Dutch would fail inspection on many of those occasions.
My last visit to the Cedar Crest was a long time coming. I had been gone for Lawrence for at least 20 years. My wife and I decided to give the old hometown a tour and look up some relatives. I had this rather strange aunt. My father used to say that she had the first penny that she ever earned. We called her and she suggested a meeting at the Cedar Crest for lunch. “The prices are cheaper at lunch time, you know,” she advised.
We met outside the restaurant on Broadway. My aunt immediately headed for the diner side of the restaurant. “No, no,” I said. “This is a special occasion. Let’s celebrate and eat in the fancy side.” Again she warned that on the fancy side the prices were higher. It took some persuading but finally she surrendered.
We had a surprisingly good time. I got the oven roast beef. My wife got the pot roast. I hadn’t had an oven roast beef in years. Everything was great. Unfortunately there was no waitress checking the cleanliness of our hands, but it still felt like home. We discussed the “good old days” and then we were off.
I would like to eat at the Cedar Crest one more time but I’m afraid it won’t happen. Either I will be gone or it will be gone before too long. But it was certainly fun while it lasted.

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 -parts of it inspired by life in Lawrence. Hobo-ing America, is a workingman’s tour of the U.S.A and The Eastpointer is selected pieces from his award winning column about life in a sleepy fishing village in the Florida Panhandle.