I shed tears the day Charlie’s Restaurant (later DuVall’s) was torn down.
The place where I had my first job. The place where I spent my teen years. The place, where, for a dozen years, if I wanted to see both of my parents at the same time (besides like 3 a.m.) I had to be there.
Mom and dad, Bill and Ruth Porter, bought Charlie’s Restaurant from Charlie Woodard around 1968. Almost from the start, mom worked the day shift and dad worked the evening shift. They were open seven days a week and closed early on Christmas Eve and remained closed through Christmas Day.
Whenever it snowed, someone would drop me off at the restaurant. Dad and I would stay until at least midnight, for there was nowhere else at the time for law enforcement to get coffee and something to eat.
“Sheriff’s Department, we’ll be out at 6500” was the radio jargon for being at Charlie’s, with 6500 being the last four digits of the phone number.
Many times I called the police and sheriff’s departments to tell them that we would be there until midnight. If the power went out, we were still there. We had a couple of lanterns, the grill was propane powered, we had a great big coffee pot that perked on the grill, and, back then, there were no worries about anyone bothering you at a business at midnight.
How I treasured those times, because when we weren’t busy, Dad and I discussed all kinds of things while we were cleaning and catching up on chores. This led to some particularly scary car rides home in the snow, and yes, we spent several nights at the restaurant if the snow was too deep.
I started my actual work career there in 1969 at age 9 simply because the dish washer, sweet Ruby Beck, wanted a day off to do her clothes washing.
I washed dishes and hauled trash on Saturdays. Work permit? Pffft. It was extremely rare for a health inspector or someone official to show up on a weekend, but my parents and I still had “the signal.” If one of them looked at me, winked, and gave the “hitch hiker thumb” over their shoulder, it meant for me to disappear. I’d quickly lose my apron and go hang out at the pool hall across the street, the trash house, or Stan Henry’s Used Car lot up the street.
Stan was a family friend, and his car wash man, “Snake” Casey was absolutely hilarious. Of course, when the coast was clear that meant I was way behind on dirty dishes and had to work twice as hard to catch up.
Just like most family businesses, my work duties multiplied very quickly. If someone wanted curb service before the first curb hop came to work at 10 a.m., I hopped curb. Many was the time that I literally “hopped the curb” and took orders across the street to the pool hall.
Everyone there was always nice to me and tipped me for bringing the food over. If a cook took a break, I jumped in and made sandwiches. I prepared salads and desserts for Sunday dinners. It wasn’t long before this evolved into waiting tables (waitresses were notorious for “no call, no shows.”
Once I got over being shy, waiting tables was a marvelous introduction to working with the public. I loved working the private parties — Christmas parties, anniversaries, birthdays, regular group meetings, etc.
I will never forget the annual Christmas parties that Allen Askins hosted for the spouses and employees of local radio station WHCC. Not only was I tipped well, but Allen always bought me the best steak dinner that we had.
God Bless forever the Gideon Men’s Group that met every Saturday morning at 7 a.m. Mom or I served their coffee and water, took their orders, and then closed the doors to the dining room.
The group then hit their knees and prayed continuously for at least 30 minutes. After they rose from their prayers, we would then let the cooks know to start on their breakfasts.
Our home phone rang all hours of the day and night. I especially dreaded mom waking me up between 4-4:30 a.m. saying, “Get up-I’ve got no cook.”
This meant dragging out of bed and going to cook biscuits, gravy, and breakfast until school time. Evenings usually meant a waitress or curb hop didn’t show up.
This is how the cousins got involved in the business. As the cousins got older, they were drafted one by one into food service. Mom and dad relied on Sherrill, Charles and Angie Wright (Gustafson) to help keep things running, and I shall eternally be grateful to them.
I was a sophomore in high school when dad was diagnosed with lung cancer. He and mom traveled to Bowman Gray Hospital for him to have his lung removed. I was trying to attend high school and make payroll and pay the bills for the restaurant.
Because of all this, I missed some marching band practices during competition season. Daddy Jim Crocker threatened to throw me out of marching band for missing practice. A bit later, he found out what was going on and ordered me to his office before practice.
There I received the “25-cent” lecture on “band is family” and an apology for what he had said.
Long, tall Rooster Bartlett was a “regular.” I never knew his story, but I think he may have been homeless. I do know for sure that he liked to fish.
He had a certain corner of the restaurant that he deemed “safe” to prop his fishing pole when he came in. He always tried to bring something to mom — a bouquet of daisies, flowers from someone’s garden, a gallon of blackberries that he had picked and even cattails, pussy willows and buttercups.
Mom would place his bouquet in a vase, brag on them a bit, and then serve him a hot meal in return. You always had to wrap up an extra piece of cornbread which Rooster tucked in his pocket for later.
On the days he didn’t show up, he usually went to Boyd’s Drive-In on Russ Avenue and swept the curb in return for a sandwich. He was always polite and appreciative of the “trades.”
If it was winter weather and he didn’t show up for a few days, we’d call Boyd’s and ask if he had been seen. If not, we’d ask the deputies when they would come in if they would keep an eye out for him. Within 24 hours, we’d receive a report back that they had located him and that he was hunkered down because of the weather.
Mystery bouquetsDad came into work about 2:30 one afternoon and sat down at the end of the bar to eat his breakfast. A gentleman came in and took the vacant stool next to Dad. They chit-chatted as they ate, and the gentleman told Dad that he was a traveling salesman of some sort.
When the gentleman finished lunch, dad told the waitress to go get him a piece of our homemade coconut pie. That was when the gentleman learned that mom and dad owned the restaurant.
When dad finished, he mentioned that he had to run to town and pick up Valentine’s gifts for Mom and me. The gentleman asked if Dad would mind if he sent us some flowers for Valentine’s Day. Dad said that would be fine and thanked him for the gesture.
Mom and I were home the next day when the delivery car for Ray’s Flower Shop pulled into the driveway. The driver came to the door with a dozen long-stemmed red roses and a dozen peach-colored roses.
Before I got them on the dining room table, Mom was already fussing about Dad wasting money on cut flowers. The red roses had a card with her name on it. She opened it and it said, “Happy Valentine’s Day” and a man’s name on it.
She looked puzzled and told me to open the card on the peach-colored roses that had my name on it. My card said the same thing. Thus began the grand inquisition. Mom asked if I knew the name. I did not.
She sat around thinking for a while-was this an old beau that she had forgotten? Maybe someone that I didn’t want to admit knowing? She called a couple of girls that worked at the restaurant and asked offhandedly if they know the name. They did not.
The name was not in our local phone book. The longer that this went on, the worse things got. Mom was afraid dad would blow his top because some other man was sending us flowers.
When it got close to time for Dad to come home, she made me take both vases of flowers in my bedroom and hide them. Dad came home and sat down and they chatted about the day for a little while. Mom looked like she was about to jump out of her skin.
Dad finally asked if we received any flowers today. Mom stuttered around, and eventually told me to go get the flowers. When I walked in with them, Mom looked so funny that Dad burst out laughing. He laughed until he lost his breath.
When he could talk again, he explained about the gentleman at the restaurant. He hadn’t mentioned it earlier, for he didn’t know if the man would really send flowers or not. Mom got mad because he hadn’t forewarned her and stayed mad for a couple of days.
Harry Howell and Wayne Presnell were the “Mutt and Jeff” of Charlie’s. One tall, the other shorter. One older, the other younger. One described as “the original grumpy old man,” the other would talk to anyone.
They were there together at least twice a day. They didn’t travel together; they just met up there. If you were not familiar with them, you’d swear that they hated each other. Fuss, cuss, argue, carry on, even turn their backs on each other and leave at the same time using different doors.
However, those two were the best of friends. I know of several good deeds that these two quietly and without fanfare did to help people in our community.
They helped mom out with some home repairs while dad was hospitalized. Always entertaining, there will never be two friends quite like that again.
I met my future husband at a play at Tuscola my sophomore year. Mom promptly forbade us to see each other, for Kim was eight years older than me.
I was friends with Pal Parker III, who worked at his father’s photography shop next door. P3 had taught me quite a bit about photography, even lending me a 35 mm camera to take on vacation. Kim knew P3 from working with him at Ghost Town.
When we were banished from seeing each other, the scheme was hatched. Mom liked P3, so he and I started “dating.” P3 would pick me up for a date while Kim would pick up P3’s date.
We would meet somewhere and trade off, returning later so that the appropriate “date” would deliver me home. Oh, this worked well for a while — until P3 forgot to pick me back up one night.
Kim dropped me off a block away from my house at 3 a.m. (and yes, a neighbor was hanging out a window to see what was going on). I walked home, tiptoed through the house to bed, and started dreading the next day, for I had to work at the restaurant with mom.
The next morning, I was on pins and needles, but mom never said anything out of the ordinary. About 10 a.m., P3 strolled in to get his morning coffee. I was secretly watching from the back dining room as P3 and mom struck up this big conversation at the cash register.
At that point, I figured my life was over-time to pick out my flowers and lie down in the casket. They finally concluded the conversation, and P3 picked up his coffee and strolled back out the door smiling.
A little later, mom mentioned that P3 apologized for getting me home a little late the night before. I was mortified, for I had no idea what story he had told her. What if she asked where we were? Kim and I had gone to the drive-in movie — I knew P3 and his date hadn’t gone there.
I carefully avoided her the rest of the day until I could find P3 and ask him what he had told her. He laughed and said that he guessed that we went to the drive-in, and he had told her that it was a double feature and we’d lost track of time.
I’m just glad that she never asked either of us what the names of the movies were. Two years later, she relented and let Kim and I date. We’ve now been married 40 years.
A couple of years after the “dating” fiasco, Kim was working at the restaurant, hopping curb and washing dishes. He had finished college, and after 13 years had decided to not return to Ghost Town that year. That job had worked out when he was going to college, but he knew that was not a career.
Around 10 a.m. Monday through Friday, Paul Tucker, John Pardue, and M.B. Reeves would come over from Pet Dairy for their coffee.
Mom knew that a long-time employee of the Dairy was soon to retire and that he worked in the office. Mom strolled over to them one morning and said, “Hey, I’ve got a guy back there washing dishes that has a business administration degree — how does he put in a job application?”
Paul Tucker told her to have him over at the plant at 11 a.m. for an interview. Mom said that that was fine as long as he was back at the restaurant for the lunch rush. Kim pulled his apron off and crossed the street for his interview.
Thus began my future husband’s 29-year, 364-day career as a route settlement accountant for Pet Dairy until his job was moved to Greenville, South Carolina.
Jack Biddix was a fixture of the restaurant, just like the bar stool next to the cash register that he always sat on. If another regular customer was seated at “Jack’s” place, they grabbed their coffee cup and moved on down the bar as soon as they saw Jack.
Jack liked his seat because he could talk to everyone that came to the cash register as well as talk to the waitresses. Jack was in attendance a minimum of twice a day, three times a day during Daylight Savings Time. Always coffee, sometimes an egg sandwich, but at least one joke was a guarantee.
Jack’s afternoon coffee trip was usually between 2 and 3 p.m. This was a slower time for business, and lots of afternoons dad and I were the only two working.
Mom always made three or four runs of homemade pickles every year. Dad would take the slow time and use the commercial slicer to slice up the cucumbers.
The scenario was the same every year. Jack got his afternoon coffee. Dad would start slicing cucumbers on the slicer. I would locate a clean towel and place it at the end of the bar. Things would continue as normal until a great curse word would echo through the building.
I’d call out, “Jack, you’re in charge,” as I broke into a run towards the door, grabbing the clean towel as I went by. Dad would meet me at the door and apply the clean towel to whatever finger that he had tried to remove with the slicer this time.
While I’d drive dad up to Dr. Fender’s office on Broadview to get stitched up, Jack would serve up drinks and apologies until I dropped dad off and got back.
Lou, Dr. Fender’s nurse, would later call and say “He’s ready for pickup.” Sometimes the good doctor would drop dad back off at the restaurant on his way home. I stress that this happened every year.
Dr. Fender suggested once that it might pay dad to buy pickles instead of collecting stitches. When July would roll around again, Jack would start asking me if it was pickle time yet, and it wasn’t a joke. We both knew what was going to happen.
The restaurant had a big cast iron boiler in the basement for steam heat. Oh, how I hated that thing. It was big, it was scary, it had sharp edges. Dad or I had to start the darn thing every heating season.
I was down there one year trying to get it started up. I had a tiny ring on that was simply made of twisted wire. The ring kept hanging on a sharp edge every time that I reached back to turn a valve.
I finally took the ring off and laid it up on a ledge next to the boiler. I forgot it that day. A couple of days later, I remembered the ring, and went to get it when I went after a can of something for the cook.
The ring was still there, and for some reason, I laid it back up on the ledge. Every now and then, I would check on the ring and put it back on the ledge.
That ring is now buried in the remnants of Charlie’s Restaurant, just like my life and that business are forever intertwined.
Mom and dad sold the restaurant in 1981 due to dad’s health. I was laid off by the new owners six months later. That was fine, for I was attending college full-time.
Mom stayed on as a waitress for several more years and several more owners, until one of them (and it was not Ernie DuVall, for she never worked for him) messed up the waitresses’ tax withholding on their paychecks.
Every waitress got an IRS audit notice that year and Mom called it quits. Dad had passed on a few years earlier, and I think that she kept working just to see the familiar faces each day.
Mom always said that he was going to write a book of all the stories and exploits of the restaurant when she retired. She said that the restaurant business made Peyton Place look like a children’s book.
How I wish that she had written that book, for I would really like to revisit those memories again. Everyone was family —we even knew the employees’ parents and kids. I still attend funerals for some of those employees, and ask about others when I see family members in town.
I cherish those days and memories, and will add to this story as I think of more. I will pass these stories down to my daughter for her amusement, for I do not believe that many businesses operate on that “family principle” any more.