Up and Over, Ryes and Fries
By Richard Kelsey
It is funny the nuggets that one uncovers glimmering in the corners of one's own mind. Most people associate even traces of memories with memorable events. Yet, sometimes memories are merely a reflection not of a specific event or person, but of a time worth remembering.
For me, Freehold is filled with memories. Some of these memories are triggered by words, by smell, by sayings, or by the familiar names of families and friends I have neither heard from nor seen in years. Each of these memories transports me back in time among the people, the family, and the town that helped to shape me.
I don't live in Freehold anymore, but it lives strongly inside of me. It lives in thousands of memories, smiles, faces, tears, triumphs, failures, and lessons. It is, still 12 years after my departure, home. Perhaps home truly is where the heart resides. For those of us who left Freehold, we must remember her through the prism of our memories and experiences. In some way, being outside of Freehold, we can live those memories of then without out the cloud and haze of now. That is to say, distance and separation give clarity and meaning to the memories.
What do I remember of Freehold? I remember her people. For a town is not a place, it is a collection of people choosing to live, work, school, entertain, fall in love, and stay together. People don't stay in towns like Freehold because they lack adventure, curiosity, or the challenge of either the city or country. They stay in Freehold because of her people, her traditions, her comfort, and the way she makes them feel at home. For that reason, her people don't often stray far, and when they do, they more than often come home even if only in memories.
The people I remember of Freehold are innumerable. I was related to many, played sports with others, caused trouble still with others, and found myself among her varied citizens from my earliest youth. I ate breakfast and lunch with her people literally. I cleaned their tables, washed their dishes, served their food, and cooked them breakfast. I grew up in a little coffee shop called the Coffee Shoppe on the Square West. It was second of two stores owned by my parents, the first being the Coffee Shoppe on the Square. Neither are there anymore except the memories that glimmer in my mind.
Each day as a young boy, I walked down main street from our home the Coffee Shop. I ate my breakfast and dutifully studied the New York Daily news for stories on the Mets, Tom Terrific, Dave Kingman, and all things related thereto. I called the number so often, I still can't dial a 780 exchange, without completing the 2-3-1-1 that was our number.
I remember helping out as a bus boy as a young boy in the summers. I graduated to dishwasher as a teen, and then transitioned to the grill, where I worked beside my father until he sold the business. I don't remember every dish I broke, but fortunately, my father still does.
The best part of the job was the proximity to the people. I loved the interaction with them. I moved from conversation to conversation, and I enjoyed the perspectives of a thousand different people. I loved that people ate the same thing, in the same seat, at the same time -- for years. I know now that they did not come for the food though no person ever has or ever will work the breakfast grill as I had at least that's how I remember it. They too came for the people. They came for the conversation. They came for the community, they came to be home.
I remember the UPS guys we called them uppsy. I remember the JCPL work crews. I remember the county workers, like the beautiful Ms. Bonnie, or ham-salad Rich. I remember Jimmy Wilson, Ronny Sage, the Kelleys, Al Sorcher, Larry, and his hole crew from Al's Bootery, particularly a salesman called Buckey. Buckey had a strange and unusual fascination with a man he would only call -- Michael Jack Schmitt. There is not much one can do with a displaced Phillies' fan in Freehold. I remember Oscar. He had the deepest voice and ate runniest eggs. I remember the county detectives; Whose idea was it to give that group guns? I remember the Judges. I remember the lawyers, the good ones and the ones who thought they were good. I remember the ladies from the bank and Paula and Helen who always let us know we were near closing time. I remember when a customer came in and said, I can't believe he hit 7-1-4. I thought he was talking about the Freehold Police car so numbered. Turns out he talking about Hank Aaron.
I remember the head of the YMCA Tony. I saved him a newspaper from the time I was about 10 -- everyday. He liked the Yankees, for which I forgave him. He was kind enough to forgive me when I dated his daughter in High School for a few weeks. Come to think of it, she dumped me! I remember the characters, like Jerry on his walkie talkie. I remember the grumpy customers too, they kept coming back every day. It wasn't for the service or the food, but for the people. After all, if you can't be grumpy at home, where can you be grumpy.
I remember my dad cutting his finger almost everyday. I remember him famously yelling as it got too hot, "drop that unit." A signal to my mother, St. Dorothea of Freehold, to lower the air conditioner.
I remember my brother Dan falling down a trap door in the back while carrying a large garbage-can out the door, holding it foolishly in front of his face. Think cartoon funny. He was not hurt, except maybe his pride.
I remember my brother Tim showing my father a picture in the Daily News of a Marine in a Wheel Chair protesting in front of the White House. He had been doing so for 35 years. I remember my dad, and his customers, friends, and fellow Marines, and the people of Freehold embracing this Marine from Staten Island. I remember 2 years later that the President gave that Marine the Congressional Medal of Honor, and my dad being at his side in the Rose Garden. I remember when that medal arrived in the mail in a small box, years later, with a note from that Marine's wife to my father -- a note that read simply, "Tony would have wanted you to have this." Maybe that's why I remember the people of Freehold for being so special.
I remember making the best coleslaw in the entire free world. I remember making home fries, the type I promise you cannot get south of the Mason Dixon line, unless you are a guest at my home.
I remember literally thousands of other people, many of the names have faded, but the faces remain clear, as do the moments. The moments made a lifetime, and the people, made it Freehold.
This morning a nugget was glimmering in the corner of my mind. I think I struck gold. At breakfast this morning the Northern Virginia suburbs found myself thinking of a couple whose names I simply don't remember. He was tall really tall. She was an attractive young woman with blonde hair. They were nice -- Freehold nice. They came in every Sunday and they ordered the number 3 special. The number 3 was 2 eggs, any style, homes fries, toast, a rib-eye steak, coffee and a small juice. It was a great meal and a real deal in the home of the 10 cent cup of coffee. Their order always made if from the waitress to me the same way. "Give me two # 3's, up and over, ryes and fries. He had his eggs up, she had them over. Both wanted rye toast, and both wanted French fries which of course must have been for the two young children in tow.
I don't know why I remembered them today but I suspect it was because they were me. That is, they then, were me now just a Freehold guy having breakfast with his young kids.
Hey Sarge, fill me up and can you raise the air? It's a bit chilly up front here in the booth.