Thanks to Judith Marshall for this guest post. I hope that you’ll check out her website linked below, and her book,
By Judith Marshall, Author of “Husbands May Come and Go but Friends are Forever” optioned for the big screen
Mr. B’s Soda Fountain
Mr. B’s was a bright and shiny place, sprinkled with lots of chrome. It smelled of fresh coffee and bacon. The booths and stools were upholstered in sunny yellow leather and the spotless floor was made up of big black and white squares. At the back of the restaurant stood a huge Wurlitzer jukebox encased in jewel-toned plastic and lit up like a Christmas tree.
Mr. B’s wife and only waitress, Hazel, stood at her post at the front end of the counter by the cash register, waiting to greet us. Her perfectly laundered uniform was so white, it hurt my eyes.
“Good Morning, Mrs. Reilly,” she said with a smile. “And how was our dance lesson today?” I looked up at my mother, my hand still in hers and waited for her to answer.
“Fine, just fine,” she said, beaming down at me. I loved how she looked at me. “We’re learning a new tap routine.”
We sat on the same stools every week, in front of the register. Mother never wanted a booth; she preferred the counter. She reached out with her freshly manicured fingers and took one of the plastic covered menus from the chrome holder. My heart leapt to my throat. Why is she looking at the menu? We always have the same thing; she a tuna melt and me a hot dog with mustard and relish and a Coke for each of us. I felt my unibrow furrow into a frown. Was she going to order something else, something new? And if so, would I have to order something new, too? What could that possibly be? But despite my apprehension, it didn’t come to that. She closed the menu and told Hazel we’d have “the usual”.
Once she ordered, she took my hand once again and we walked back to the jukebox, me taking two steps to her one. She handed me a quarter to deposit into the slot.
“J-1, Honey. Now B-12, please,” she would say. I loved standing on my tippy toes, pushing those giant red buttons with the letters and numbers carved into them. Without me, that machine would just sit there, mute! I felt such power. After our final selection, we came back to the counter and waited for our lunch.
We didn’t talk much to each other during these visits but I loved listening to Hazel and my mother “catch up on things” while Frank Sinatra crooned in the background. They shared gossip, talked about the weather and speculated on whether the newest business in town would make it or not. Hazel’s voice sounded like she was pinching her nose when she talked, like Marie Wilson, the actress in that funny Jerry Lewis movie. I could listen to her all day.
When we finished our lunch, we thanked Mr. B. and Hazel and hand-in-hand, we walked back to the parking lot at the Odd Fellows Hall, taking in the fragrances of the freshly planted flowers in the window boxes of the stores along Main Street. My mother told me their names as we passed – Narcissus and Jasmine that smelled like honey, and the Violas with blossoms that looked like the faces of Japanese children. Weren’t they lovely?
We climbed into our big four-door Chrysler. I felt like an ant on the huge over-stuffed seat. The upholstery scratched my bare legs as I scooted back to get comfortable. The smell of my father’s pipe tobacco hung in the air and suddenly I couldn’t wait to get home and tell him about my lesson. I loved his kind face, the way his eyes crinkled at the corners when he laughed. And his big strong hairy arms that would lift me in the air as if I was weightless. I smiled as we eased out into traffic.
My B’s Soda Fountain is long gone now, and so are my parents. But I’ve taken up tap again and when I walk to my car after a lesson, I can almost feel my mother’s hand in mine. I can’t wait to show my husband the new step I learned.