is a squat windowless building with a green shingled overhang beveled around wooden soffits. I used to walk there from Gerry Rushlow’s farm. Or was it Sally Rushlow’s farm or Marggie Rushlow’s farm or Chad Roberts’ farm or Marggie Rushlow-Roberts’ farm? Restaurants and farms aren’t owned according to patrilineal or matrilineal accession but adopt their owners at various points in their lives.
Restaurants in particular have several lives: life of the building, life of the mind, life of the spirit, as well as various vertices where these lives conjoin. I said I used to walk to Orchard Grove Restaurant, but that isn’t quite correct. I’d ride shotgun in Gerry’s golf cart down the shoulder of Middle Belt Road, that old regional-arterial wagon trail that runs from Toledo to Detroit. Gerry had MS and couldn’t walk, a circumstance the great equestrian never mentioned. He never lamented the lost years in the saddle except to say, “You do what you can.”
One month the farm would be owned by a son who’d just been given a steel tractor drag for Christmas because he was obsessed with the footing of the indoor riding ring. Another month the farm would be owned by a girl falling in love with the feel of mown hay and clover tumbling through her fingers as she turned it over to face the sun.
The complex rights of ownership necessitate the punctilious hyphenation of names, titles, and compound modifiers. For instance, I might wake late and say, “It’s an Orchard-Grove afternoon,” and remember walking there from Gerry Rushlow’s farm. Marggie Rushlow becomes Marggie Rushlow-Roberts after she marries a friend of mine.
In the summer the fishermen bring Lake Erie walleye and perch to the restaurant; Jenny cleans the fish and batters them in buttermilk and flour in advance of the dinner crowd. The Smoke-Eater is obsolete. The toy semi-cab with the Budweiser freightliner has been behind the bar since Reagan went on TV to swear he believed in his heart-of-hearts that his administration hadn’t traded arms for hostages, though the facts he’d seen said otherwise.
I picture the old cathode-ray-tube television perched on its stand in the corner and the long-haul drivers cloaked in pale blue smoke sidling up to watch the equivocal man muster palaver from lies. That scandal now seems quaint, but once it was enough to silence wizened drunks, so-called “Reagan Democrats” in a Downriver bar on a wagon-trail-turned-trucking route.
The truth is that even in the best of times we don’t know who will make it. These dark months have left me wondering which haunts will be left. I could reemerge to a palimpsest of clapboard real estate signs over windows and the trace of scrapped lettering spelling out the eidolons of businesses of friends.
It’ll be there when it’s done, I tell myself, or if it’s not done it’ll be there, pinned to a vertex at the conjunction of memory and bleakness. I’ll tell Jenny we missed her. I’ll ask for a whiskey-ginger and a table-for-two. The tabletop Pacman game will seem like an agrarian relic, like a washboard or butter churn. A digital life form and a piece of time, its points leaders buried in posterity and inscrutable pseudonyms. Neither of us will mention what’s been lost.
Cal Freeman is the author of the book Fight Songs. His writing has appeared in many journals including Southword, The Moth, Passages North, The Journal, Hippocampus, Southwest Review, Post Road, and The Poetry Review. His poetry collection, Poolside at the Dearborn Inn, is forthcoming from R & R Press in 2022. He currently serves as music editor of The Museum of Americana and teaches at Oakland University.