The end of the world as I know it
For three consecutive nights somewhere near the end of June I had the same conversation with my dad. It was time, he had deduced, to sell his half of The Waterfront. His business partner of 34 years, he said, was willing to buy the place.
I grew up underfoot at the restaurant, working there during high school and college, returning for a time after the company I was working for folded in 2010.
Did I have any interest in holding onto the restaurant, he asked. I thought it was a respectful gesture. I spoke at length with my youngest brother — the one with the business acumen. Neither of us could fathom taking that legacy on. And neither of us felt the legacy was rightfully ours. The Waterfront, as we see it, existed as it was created by my father and Sam Appleton in 1978 with a prayer and a loan for $7,500.
After standing on the edge of my garden, where my cell phone reception is best, for the third night, the third hour, the third conversation about the fate of the restaurant, I knew he was serious. I knew it was time, as my mother always said, to speak or forever hold my piece.
I hung up and drew a deep, ragged breath. I went inside and began washing dishes. The spectacular evening sunshine bathed the fresh, near-summer grass as my hens scattered about the yard. I scrubbed and gazed out the window. Hot water ran over my hands and a single, a hot tear streaked the side of my face.
On August 1, 2012 the papers were passed and my dad bid farewell to The Waterfront. It seemed like an immaculate transaction; I am not, and do not wish to be, privy to the exact details. I know it was fair and I know the restaurant is in good hands with Sam. I'm still working to embrace the change. I finally mustered the guts to go in, more than a month after my dad opted out, and it didn't feel the same. I know now I will not walk into The Waterfront of my childhood again. Life goes on, and this is life.
Fred, first a tenured bartender who I deeply feared as a teenage hostess, and who later came to be a dear and trusted friend, served me that night. When I was out of earshot, he told my boyfriend Kelly he was considering taking a job in Panama.
Two weeks later he was gone.
It strikes me, when I think about it, that I said one of my first words sitting on that wide, mahogany bar. It strikes me that I will never be as welcome to walk through the kitchen door again. When I walk by the place, which I often do, I feel like I am glimpsing an ex-boyfriend deep in conversation with someone else. It is not all that comfortable for me yet.
Ultimately, I know my father is happy. He is, after all, approaching 73. I also have a gut feeling about the future, that his work is not yet done. Every time I look at a planning board agenda I half expect to see his name, catch him in the act of starting some other wild, 11th-hour adventure.
I think of The Waterfront often — cleaning out my closet recently I came across several of the classic, original Waterfront T-shirts. I paused and let the wave of nostalgia pass; that's how it's been for me.
Dad and Sam were together in their multiple business ventures for nearly a half-century. Regardless of today, regardless of August, I find their ability to work together inspiring and remarkable. I hold dear the stories of growing up in the restaurant, surrounded by a large, extended family of sorts. I feel very lucky for the odd and eclectic childhood afforded to me by that place.
I doubt my father, given the choice, would trade his years with Sam, building that humble, and enduring restaurant by the sea, for anything.
Courier Publications reporter Jenna Lookner can be reached at 236-8511 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org