Decades before America was introduced to the "Soup Nazi," there was Mrs. Laine. The old 1897 brick building on the southwest corner of Main and Water was home to Laine's Cafeteria. It was a cafeteria only one day a week-- Sunday from 10:30 to 2:30. The restaurant was also open on Friday evening and Saturday evening, but service then was not cafeteria-style.
Mrs. Laine during the week is the drama and literature and Latin teacher at the local high school. We have no idea how old she is, for most people under fifty remember her as their teacher; and yes, plastic surgery was practiced in that day and time. Also, we know that she has a son who is forty-six years of age, about whom more later. Let's meet her in her establishment on this beautiful Friday evening.
There are no gaudy lights, no signs visible from the street. There is a small bronze plaque, about six inches by twelve, affixed to the brickwork beside the front door on which is inscribed
As we pass through the vestibule, noting that the lights are becoming dimmer as we walk along the hallway, we soon come to the podium at which sits Mrs. Laine on a high stool. On the podium itself is a leather-bound menu, and the one is more than enough, for the menu is exactly whatsoever has been created in the kitchen on this day. That is what you will have, no more, no less, if indeed you have anything. Mrs. Laine inherited the recipe collection from her great grandmother who was an immigrant from Eastern Europe. The food is worth the trip, as numerous souls from as far away as four neighboring states would testify.
Mrs. Laine raises her perfectly-coiffed head. With neither smile nor frown, she peers imperiously toward you through her lorgnette. "Yes?" You tell her how many in your party, and she looks down at her desktop as you note the triple strand of high-quality pearls that encircle her neck. This is where the "rubber meets the road." Even though a quick glance around the dining area reveals several empty tables, and you know as well that Laine's does not take reservations, you may or may not be admitted for dinner! Some have driven eighty or a hundred miles only to be rejected at the door. No one knows what system or set of standards the hostess uses to make her determination; but her decision is final. A few unlucky and unwise souls have attempted the ploy of sliding a folded twenty-dollar bill across the desktop. It is unfolded, daintily held now between thumb and forefinger, and thrust back toward the offending soul. Here the proprietor speaks, "You may be admitted at a later date; but if you make this mistake again, you will be banned forever." Here she taps with her lorgnette on an eight x twelve poster on the wall to her left. You look at it. It is headed "Persona non grata." Below, though in your haste to retreat you do not read all the names, you note a few that are immediately outstanding.
- Fidel Castro
- Lyndon B. Johnson
- Matt Welsh
- John Frederick
- Anna Lighthouse
and so on. We would probably all ban Castro. Mrs. Laine has voided Mr. Johnson's privileges because, though she was a huge JFK fan, her suspicions regarding LBJ's ascension to the presidency are quite strong. Matt Welsh is the governor of the state, an all-round nice guy, but he had the misfortune of running against and defeating Mrs. Laine's brother in a heated election for state representative many years ago. Roger Branigin succeeded Welsh as governor in 1965, and shortly thereafter, his name was added to the list. I don't know why. John Frederick is the local "mayor," the title being an honorific since there is no such official position. The community can only speculate as to Mrs. Laine's dislike of him, but it is well-known. Anna Lighthouse, and this is really ancient history, was a rival for Mr. Laine's attentions when the three of them were students at Indiana University. Though Mrs. Laine prevailed in the contest for the man's heart, she has never forgiven Anna. Just for existing, we suspect.
Oh, dear. And having ourselves passed muster, we have yet to be seated. The
The tureen is set on the table, the waiter takes the ladle and...
Thus begins a dining experience to which I am unable to do justice, so you will complete the story by simply imagining the most delightfully indescribable dining experience you have ever had.
© 2010 David W. Lacy