Gratitude makes the journey better and so does kindness

Tag: neighborhood

Why Every Community Needs A Diner

(Originally published as a column in the Saturday edition of the Kamloops Daily News on November 30, 2013)

The one thing I remember about the diner that night is that it smelled like a home rather than a restaurant. Also, the invitation to sit wherever we wanted and being addressed with “dear.”

When you’re new in a place, “dear” sounds right.

An elderly couple smiled from across the room and nodded welcome — a remnant from the days when looking at someone you didn’t know was not rude but rather a greeting that meant just that, ‘welcome.’

We spent a tired first night in the attached inn and late morning found us in the diner again, for breakfast. In less than 24 hours, the diner had become a familiar place with familiar faces and “dear” was tucked motherly into every other sentence. Breakfast was good and warm.

Life rolled on and we moved into our house a few blocks away from the diner. Nightly walks had us by its red-lit OPEN sign often, and every time I looked inside I was reminded of our first night in Kamloops.

A sign outside the door says ‘Coffee and pie, all day, $2.95’ and you see it every time you walk by.

The first time we tried it we had just dropped off the boys at school. Coffee and pie sounded like an invitation and we said why not.

We sat by the window and got engrossed in talking.

The second time, we took the boys there after school and we each got different pies and a big blob of whipped cream on the side.

Someone sitting at another table waved at us, then walked over to say hi. It was one of the paramedics who helped during my youngest son’s asthma attack. He remembered us, my son’s name and the fact that we all have the same kind of boots.

When he left, saying “see you around,” we said the same because we knew it was true. It happens all the time.

The boys pointed at the black-and-white historic photos on the walls, of cars parked outside the same diner, of the inn, of people smiling. I wondered how many of them were still stopping by for meals and conversations. I wondered if the diner will still be when the boys have grown up.

Somehow I know it will. Many diners have been around for a long time and they have the best social-media platform there is: face to face conversations, people from the next table asking how your day has been and actually waiting for an answer.

But not all diners are like this. I remember one in Fort Langley where the old charm is all there but the young waiters who take your order and give you the correct change never ask about your day or whether you live close by.

Another diner near Kootenay Lake had a cold feel to it, literally and otherwise. People there did not connect the dots between visitors and food and you felt isolated.

So we ate and went on our way. It was a freezing sunny day in March, but the outside felt warmer.

Neighbourhood diners where people smile and say “hope to see you again” are a sign of a healthy community and a reminder of the good old feeling of never being far from a friendly face. Locals come and lean back on chairs as if at home, which is somewhat accurate, and travelers feel welcome.

The ladies who bring you coffee and pie and meals call you “dear” and “honey” and you’re tickled pink every time just because. They address children the way an aunt would, they carry smiles from table to table and they laugh with old customers over this or that with a familiarity that you want to be part of because it feels warm and good.

So I want diners like this to stay. Not because I cannot find coffee and pie or a good meal elsewhere, but because of that warm space that connects people to food, to other people and to the community they all live in, for a night, a few years or a lifetime.

After all, a place is a place. It’s the people that make it special.

Stories of Nearby Coffee Shop Charm

(Originally published as a column in the Kamloops Daily News on Saturday, November 16, 2013.) 

You know a good place as soon as you enter it.

WarmthIt was Thursday morning; we were the first two customers to sit in the Barnhartvale coffee shop and the big wood stove was quietly churning out heat — an invitation in itself.

We sit next to it and set up the computers. It was a working day, after all.

“A few local people will be here soon for a jamming session,” one of the owners, Carrie, tells us.

I like the quiet and the usual kitchen noises you hear from a kitchen you don’t always see, but there’s something special about witnessing a music morning in Barnhartvale.

We sit and write and the coffee is pleasantly hot.

A few people pour in shortly before 11 and take their seats around the big round table by the window after pulling their guitars out for the jamming.

A few more show up and the first notes fly around the room.

Christmas carols, old songs, interruptions here and there to adjust pace, tone, or to exchange words and jokes and all those “good to be here” looks one would expect.

The group seems so well oiled in creating music, we assume they formed a long time ago.

“It’s their first time like this,” Carrie says.

We write, eat homemade parsnip-and-ginger soup, and music fills all the spaces that would have stayed uselessly empty otherwise.

Music people chatter, other locals step in to warm up over a cup of coffee and to exchange a few words, and writing turns plump and satisfying. I am glad I gave in to the morning invite.

Before leaving, we take a look around the store the coffee shop is adjacent to. Half is old country antique and some has one-of-a-kind fair trade and local art pieces.

In the antique and consignment side of the country store, there is a handmade thick wool sweater with a few moose and evergreen on it. I am hardly the impulse buyer, but this time is different. Every now and then we each give in to a “winter’s on our doorstep” kind of gift and this is mine.

Outside, it smells like winter and feels like it’s about to snow.

We take a stroll through the yard. We’ve seen it before during a drive-through trip in the spring when the coffee shop was still a project and greenness abounded.

PondThere is a pond with edges festooned with dormant water lilies and ruffled-top reeds and a wooden dock in the middle of it. Two mallards with orange feet and a whole lot of confidence make their way out and question our empty hands. The only place where a sense of entitlement doesn’t seem exaggerated.

There is no denial that country charm has dipped its toes in this pond and frolicked about the yard. We’ve seen it in bloom in early spring and we’re not scared by its rather stark autumn appearance, but comforted by its slow pace and leaf-covered paths.

I am partial to quirky coffee shops. I admit it. And though I like walking to my favourite ones in town, the 15-minute drive to and up the windy Barnhartvale road was well worth it.

You know it’s a good place to be when people, who know each other only by virtue of inhabiting the same community, gather to strum a few chords in the warm place that has coffee and homemade lunches — and all the stories and smiles a good host should.

The “Right in the heart of downtown Barnhartvale” sign outside in the parking lot calls it straight.

There’s a heart to it.


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