"Betty Crocker's Pie Shop"
In the summer of 1972 I spent a lot of my time with my two best friends and their dad. Yup, my best friends were Kevin and Tommy Fitzgerald, and their dad, John was a really great man that I loved dearly. John was a psychiatric social worker, and as such, he had the great ability to listen deeply and not show any emotion. He could just nod at whatever he was being told. He also could deliver ANY LINE - I mean any absolutely hysterically funny line, and never crack. It was a talent.
Kevin, Tommy, John and I spent whatever free time we had (end of weekdays and weekends) playing tennis. There were a number of other folks that would join in from time to time, and we usually had the two tennis courts at the elementary school in Goshen, CT busy whenever it wasn't raining. There were probably 8 or 10 of us that played as long as the light allowed (no fancy court lights at the time).
With the last name of Fitzgerald, you can imagine that they were Irish. I need to tell a side story here, so just hang on...
One of John's prized possessions was a shillelagh that he kept in the breezeway of his house. I'm sure it was originally from Ireland, and had been passed down through generations of Fitzgeralds. One day Tommy decided to take his dad's shillelagh and use it as a golf club. He was whacking the balls pretty well in his side yard when his dad came home. I never saw John much madder than that day. He asked Tommy what the HELL he was doing, and then sent all the non family kids (me included) home, and story goes that he then helped Tommy completely understand that using a shillelagh as a golf club was "not acceptable behavior".... We didn't see Tommy the rest of the day.
Back to the story....
The four of us had just spent the morning in Avon Connecticut (kind of an uppity town compared to the "cow town" of Goshen where we lived) playing tennis with some of John's friends and colleagues. It was a great morning, and I think we had four courts of doubles that were just superb. Those guys in Avon could play tennis alright, but us country boys had held our own. After tennis, we started driving home. John pulled into a brand new restaurant "BETTY CROCKER'S PIE SHOP" that had just recently opened. It looked great, and we couldn't wait to try it out. It was lunchtime and we were starving.
The waitress was young but fairly efficiently took our lunch orders and went to get our drinks. The four of us read the place mats that were in front of us. Each place mat was exactly the same, and told the "story" of Betty Crocker. It talked about how she had been taught by her mother to make the very best pies.... and on.... and on...
*** For those of you who may not know - Betty Crocker was / is a fictional character. She's a brand. She never lived. Got it? Good. ****
The waitress came back with our drinks and placed them in front of us. John turned on his ability to speak without affect and declared that he had just read the "biography" of Betty Crocker and was quite appalled. The waitress started to get flustered. John demanded to know why one of the most important aspect's of "Betty's" life was not captured on the place mat. John looked this poor girl in the eye and said: "This is 1972, and I want to know why there's no mention on this biography that Betty was a lesbian. Is the pie shop afraid to just tell the truth? We live in modern times! This is something that should be celebrated, not just swept under the rug! Please send over the manager."
Kevin and Tommy and I hadn't seen this angry look in John's eye since the shillelagh incident. We just sat there quiet as mice. John watched the waitress go behind the counter and practically run to her manager. We couldn't hear the words, but she was pointing at our table and obviously conveying the exact words that John had told her.
When she finished, the manager looked at us and broke into hysterics. He was laughing all the way to our table. John had a way of laughing without a sound, but his entire body was shaking as the manager approached.
The manager said: "That's the funniest thing anyone's done here since we opened. You're hilarious. I really needed that today." The manager had laughed so hard that he insisted that dessert was on him. We all had great Betty Crocker pie.
John was a role model for me in many ways. He loved people. He loved making them laugh. Yes, he was a bit avant garde, but never in a hurtful way. (OK - the waitress may still be in therapy, but all humor takes a few casualties I guess.)
We all have people that helped to shape and mold who we are today. When I look back, there are some people that inserted one word into my vocabulary or one gesture that was theirs and is now mine. I know I'm an amalgamation of so many wonderful folks. And dear readers, some of you fit that category for me. But what about you? Who may have touched your life, even for a brief moment and still left their imprint on you?
Till Next Week!