There was this place in my hometown of Monroe, N.Y., that one summer was the rage among the “in-crowd.” By “place,” I mean an outdoor bar in the middle of a dusty parking lot, and by “in-crowd,” I mean the stereotypical popular types. It should come as no surprise that I was not among their ranks.
Whenever I drove by that place, “The Captain’s Table,” I seethed with the resentment born from an adolescence of exclusion and the apparent hopelessness of my station. Even more galling was that the purported elite celebrated their status at a quasi-tiki bar. It was so suburban. It was so bourgeois. It was so Monroe. I swore that the day I finally got out of that town, I’d never look back.
And, I didn’t, for more than 30 years.
In January, I got the news from one of my childhood friends that her father died. This man was by every measure of character the most noble of people, a pillar of the community and the standard I set for myself to be a good father. I could not miss the occasion to pay my respects.
Wakes and funerals are by their very nature disorienting. The gathering is sad, but seeing so many united in their respect and devotion for the departed is in itself a unique moment. There were people I hadn’t seen or thought about in years and others I didn’t recognize. It had all the emotions of being at a high school reunion, which seemed so misplaced for the occasion. I mentioned that to my friend, who by all appearances was holding up strong and gracefully under the circumstances, and she responded that her father would’ve wanted it that way.
Outside the funeral home with two of my oldest friends, Chris and Jordan, dinner at, of all places, The Captain’s Table was suggested. It might have been the symbolic setting of my adolescent antipathy, but it was getting late, and I didn’t have a better idea.
The years had been kind to the once outdoor establishment. A family restaurant had been built over that tiki-bar, and it had all the signs of a thriving establishment. The food and service were great, but more importantly, its warmth and vitality created the atmosphere old friends would find rejuvenating. Others from the wake joined us, and we had a little party going of old friends, new friends and family. In short, it was perfect.
In my zeal to leave my hometown and everything I thought it represented, I had forgotten about all the people and little things that made my life there special. Maybe I didn’t fit in everywhere with everyone, but the ones who did let me in made me feel at home. And, maybe, I just needed to let those other places grow on me.