One theme. One poet. One memoirist.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Breaking Bread

Hey, y'all. Here's my contribution on both bread and kinship. That's kinda cheating, I realize, but as I contemplated the two topics, I knew I couldn't separate them. Aixois is my family and we are that because we have shared so much over "bread."

Also, I realize the criticism of "not enough" will come here. This is something I would like to play with and expand at some point. That's just an FYI.




“It was never more’n just a little knockabout place. . . . It’s funny how a little place like this brought so many people together.” This is how Mrs. Threadgood describes the Whistle Stop CafĂ© to Evelyn Couch in Fried Green Tomatoes.

“A little knockabout place”—I’ve known a few of those. The most significant of them is a little French restaurant and coffee bar called Aixois that’s not a hundred paces from the home where we moved when I was a junior in high school.

At that time my grandparents moved out to Washington state, and my mom and her partner bought their house. Mom and I had been in our little house on Madison for thirteen years. For me, the move meant leaving the house that symbolized our survival after dad’s death; it meant I could no longer hide from my friends that my mother was in a relationship with a woman, something I had not shared with anyone since I’d been teased about it in grade school; it meant saying goodbye to the grandparents who had been such a big part of my growing up; it meant moving out of the parish that had been my home. I recognized it as a good thing for mom and Ruth, but I did not see it as such a good thing for me.

About three months after we moved into the house Aixois opened. Ruth started working there as the coffee bar manager, and the place became a regular hangout. On Saturday mornings I would wake early, grab a book, and head across the street to claim one of the round wooden tables by a window. With a cup of tea and a chocolate croissant I would immerse myself in whatever I was reading at the time—Joan Chittister, Lord of the Rings, schoolwork, Toni Morrison.

Coffee shop regulars are a particular breed. The baristas know their drinks of choice. They have particular places they like to sit. They watch, somewhat haughtily, when nonregulars navigate coffee shop intricacies—trying to find the sugar and creamer, figuring out the menu, discerning the best table to occupy. Coffee shop regulars know one another and congregate.

And so it was that after several months of early mornings at Aixois, a regular crowd formed. They included mostly middle-aged women, some men, and me, the communal daughter. Gay and straight, professors and doctors, chiropractors and journalists. We gathered on Saturdays and Sundays to check in with each other, to laugh and share, to break bread.

Our lives are a succession of communities: we’re part of one and then we move on, carrying the memories, the people, the places. It’s odd anymore for people to remain part of one community for their whole lives. They may maintain contact with the people, but the community shifts and changes. Such has happened with Aixois. I consider the men and women of that regular group of customers to be family. They are home to me. I no longer live one hundred paces from the door of Aixois; I no longer have the gift of breaking bread with these people daily or weekly. But it is a comfort that they still go, they still laugh and meet and talk. A little knockabout place indeed.


  1. I really like the line about the communal daughter as well as the idea of our lives as a succession of communities.

    You're right. More.

    I also think that I would like a different introduction--perhaps a description of the place itself? You don't have to go all Umberto Eco on it, but I don't have a real sense of concreteness to the place.

  2. Thanks, Prosen. I actually had a paragraph of description, but it was taking me somewhere I didn't want to go. So I cut it without working it back in.

    You may beg to differ with me on this, but I've not ever written something where nearly every sentence needed more explanation. I feel that this piece cries loudly for more. Even I find myself saying, "Wait a minute! That needs to be explained!"

    One of these days.