When I first walked in two years ago, I loved Jean’s Place, an old school, much-loved family diner in Hoosick Falls, down the highway from our farm.
There was something brash about Jean’s Place, something loud, old-fashioned, and homey.
The food was delicious and home-cooked; the waitresses were part-time social workers, counseling and commiserating with their customers, who they all knew by name. They called everybody by their name or “hon” and took no prisoners if they were rude or impatient.
We got to know Robin well, and then Kelsie, the prodigal daughter and presumed heir, and Kevin and Kelly, who seemed to live in the kitchen.
I gave Kelsie some Wonder Woman shirts and tights, and we became good friends.
The Pandemic hit Jean’s hard, they are a small business, and the lockdowns took so many of their customers away.
Many of the townspeople who loved the place hung in there and ordered take-out. I tried to help, I asked Jean’s to cater lunches to the Mansion for months, and the blog also let locals know that their delicious sandwiches, muffins, and soups were still available as takeouts.
As the Pandemic wore on, I couldn’t afford the lunches – there were too many other needs at the Mansion and Bishop Maginn, and then I had my series of surgeries.
My doctors always strongly cautioned me to stay out of small spaces with many people, masks or no. They said Covid could be fatal for me. That meant staying away from Jeans for a while. There was little room for social distancing. So I wasn’t keen on going back into the hospital.
Jean’s place hung on by their own good cooking and kindness and willpower; I hope I softened the blows a bit; they didn’t need me to survive. They were tough as nails and worked day and night. There was no way the townspeople would let them sink.
But it was awfully hard for them. I could see on my quick visits that they were wearing out. They had to let some much-loved workers go.
That hard phase of Jean’s Place seems to be ending. Finally, vaccinated people can come in without masks, and they are.
Today Maria and I returned to Jean’s Place, and I was thrilled to see Mary, the plain-speaking Saturday waitress who chewed me out for the bad way I was ordering Egg N’ Cheese sandwiches and taught me to do it right.
(Today, I got an A-minus because I ordered coffee and muffins first, and the egg n’ cheese should always come first.)
Mary’s still the Queen of Saturday, and I still wouldn’t mess with her. I didn’t go into the kitchen to visit; they were too busy.
Mary made me believe that they missed me and cared about me, something it’s always hard for me to accept. But since I missed them and cared about them, I decided to believe.
“How dare you not tell us about the heart surgeries,” she scolded, “that is something we want to know!”
The food is the same, but post-mansion, there was a different vibe. More settled, at peace, quieter. I liked the feel.
Things have changed. Kevin has completed his chemo; Kelly has cut back on her hours. Robin is gone; Kelsie, my favorite Wonder Woman, has moved on and become a social worker.
Like so many of us, the pandemic changed things in indirect ways. But the process of healing can be beautiful.
I hugged Mary and caught up with her – she chewed me out twice for not telling them about my heart surgeries. “I bet you scared the hell out of your wife,” she said, chewing me out for having a wobbly heart.
Then she insisted on taking the food out to the car so she could say hello to Maria.
I love Mary.
We took our sandwiches to a nearby park, as we did when the pandemic began.
It was warm and beautiful, and peaceful there. So I am resuming my regular visits to Jean’s, sometimes for breakfast, once for lunch with friends once I make some, and sometimes for special dinners.
It’s good to have the place back in my life. I might have to give up the egg n’cheese though, that will be a trauma.
Jean’s wormed its way into my heart, and it was a great lift to go back there. Jean’s is where community lives and means something.
It is an old-style diner with attitude, but special food. We brought two corn muffins home, and their pies stack up against anybody’s, not that I can eat much of them.
Going back to Jean’s made me feel whole again; Jean’s is a part of me, and I want it back in my life. I think the pandemic can take a lot of things away, but it can’t keep them away forever.
Jean’s Place is still Jean’s Place, the restaurant you go to when you are hungry, lonely, or someone you love has passed away. They will know about it in most cases and be ticked off if you don’t tell them.