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Sandy Knauer

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Blogs by Sandy Knauer

Let It Be
4/27/2006 11:41:49 PM
My big mistake was in expecting a twenty-mile drive to erase the thirty years I had been away. I set myself up for the unwarranted sense of betrayal that came when I saw a flat lot with a beer garden standing where I remembered rows of curbside-service speakers, covered by orange awnings. Otherwise, the outside of the stone and glass building appeared untouched except for the new name.

While I was growing up, my family ate out most Friday nights. We hit the church fish fries, Sizzler and Pizza Hut after they came around, and Frisch’s on occasion. Once in a great while, we donned good clothes and manners and visited an upscale restaurant. The one place we all enjoyed, and therefore frequented most often, was Hank’s, a family-owned, neighborhood bar-restaurant combination with one small and one large dining room, a banquet room, and servers who delivered food outdoors, on trays that attached to the car windows. Hank’s original salad dressing made them famous. Individual jukebox connections on each table made the dining room our favorite spot to eat. For a quarter, each of us could choose a song. A dollar entertained us through the whole meal.

Last week, my daughters and I went back to Hank’s, where an eerie combination of old and new greeted me. Everything and nothing had changed. Hank’s family had taken the salad dressing but left the bar, standing across from the same row of booths, seating what looked like some of the same people, in the same clothes and hairstyles. A stage replaced the jukeboxes, and open mic meant we could still eat to music and choose a few of our own songs.

Before I registered the significance of the glass-encased antique coke bottles I might have emptied in the past, or absorbed the nostalgia of the coconut face on the wall, I spotted my uncle standing at the bar. A few pounds heavier, much shinier on top, same brandy in hand, he looked past my pounds and gray and recognized my daughters. Hours and hugs later, I wondered if his mist over partying with great nieces came from the bottle, the years passed, or realizing how few we might have left. Maybe he thought, as I did, that I should be my daughter’s age and he should not be the only male left in the only generation ahead of me.

Harmonious discord wasn’t exclusive to our table, nor did familial concern end there. When the red head in the out-of-season, cardboard New Year’s Eve tiara draped her arms around my daughter’s shoulders and smiled at me, my heart sank. How could I have forgotten her name when she was so obviously overjoyed to see us? I mentally removed the tiara and a few lines from her face, and tried on the name of every second and third cousin I could remember. Nothing fit, except the warmth she radiated and the smile my daughter wore.

As the tiara bobbed and the stories poured, I narrowed the prospects. Laughter accompanied her complaints about the pawing she had received from the old fart by the pool table; she had to be from Mom’s side. I would either remember her name by the time she finished the rundown of safe, arms-length, and stay-the-hell-away men present, or I would ask my uncle when he found his way back from the bar.

Her name was Bonnie. I didn’t remember because I had never known. She was a regular, not related on either side, but already vested in my family by the time we found out. Bonnie stayed with the first hour and then took off to pull a good-natured, stay-the-hell-away guy to a back corner for a dance.

Later, Bonnie hugged her way to a back table of arm’s-length listeners and my uncle grew roots beside a blonde barfly. One daughter went off to reserve her ten minutes on the sign-up sheet, while the other huddled close to hear a friend yell over the heavy metal group on stage.

A lone dancer hypnotized me with her routine – five steps to the right, raise the beer bottle overhead, bow, five steps to the left, flip the hair off the face, turn a complete circle, and repeat. Although disturbed by the obvious role of long-term chemical use in this dazed ritual, I respected the dancer’s disregard of public opinion. As if willing to enhance my appreciation, an ageless, gender-undisclosed clogger unfolded from a lotus position beside the stage and tapped passionately to the last thirty seconds of a poor rendition of Queen’s “We Will Rock You”.

Possible explanations flooded my mind: flashbacks, nightmare, Twilight Zone, time warp. Flashbacks seemed unlikely since I had refused even the drugs prescribed to me, and I’d never heard of contact flashbacks. The Twilight Zone was fictional and I knew I was awake. A mullet head conversing with a tube top supported the time warp, until I looked past my daughter’s nose ring and focused on the table behind her. Three men stared back at me, one fiftyish with waist-length hair poking out a bandana scarf, a thirty-something, clean-cut yuppie, and a sixty-something, toothless biker in a leather vest. I would surely have warped to one era and there was no way these people all belonged in the same one.

Sometime after the clogger (who turned out to be male) sang “Let It Be”, and before seventies rock, they called my daughter to the stage to introduce ancient country. While she tested the mic and whispered to the bass player, a ghost from my past climbed on stage beside her. Not quite the guitar player her father had been, and not knowing he was standing next to an old friend’s daughter, a worn man plugged in and accompanied her on a song her father had sung twenty years before.

I watched his tired eyes travel with the music, maybe wishing he could recapture the same thirty years I had wanted the trip to erase for me. He stared into space, the middle-aged bass player watched the back of my daughter’s head, the young drummer kept his eyes closed, and my daughter’s eyes never left mine. My uncle and Bonnie left their fans and came to stand beside the mix-matched crew behind us. The lone dancer repeated her routine and the clogger remained in lotus position.

The magic of this unique little world hit me as I watched young-and-hopeful stand two feet and a world away from holding-on-to-what’s-left on the stage. Everyone had come to share common space and individual passions and paths. Some were young. Some were old. Some were sober and others hadn’t been in decades. No one laughed and pointed at the clogger or the lone dancer. No one booed when the band changed, or when the music was horrible. The stay-the-hell-away guys didn’t shun Bonnie when she pawed them and turned the story around.

I hadn’t been anywhere so accepting in years, and couldn’t remember when being unaccepting had come into vogue.

Twenty miles got closer. We’re anxious to go back, where people remember how to let it be.


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More Blogs by Sandy Knauer
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• Link to flagged article - Thursday, March 15, 2007
• God Does Make Garbage - And Other Annoying News - Friday, February 09, 2007
• Action Alert: AFA at it again - Wednesday, January 24, 2007
• Kid-free Zone - Sunday, December 10, 2006
• He Deserves Better - Saturday, September 30, 2006
• Glasses or Stage? - Wednesday, August 16, 2006
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• Damn You - Sunday, July 02, 2006
• And Not So Great First Dates - Sunday, June 25, 2006
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• Happy Father's Day For Me - Saturday, June 17, 2006
• We Don't Share Crayons - Friday, June 16, 2006
• Roly-poly Slobber - Monday, June 12, 2006
• John Wayne and Elvis Were Full of Shit and You Probably Are Too - Monday, June 05, 2006
• Ignorance Is Bliss - Monday, May 29, 2006
•  Let It Be - Thursday, April 27, 2006  
• Can We Leave Justice to the Luck of the Draw? - Friday, April 14, 2006
• Gospel of Judas - Thursday, April 06, 2006
• Healthcare Costs – How We Turn Molehills into Mountains - Tuesday, March 28, 2006
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