Unbottled

Some people called it a café, some said it was a truck stop, and others used the old-fashion term-diner. I and several others just thought of it as the place we got coffee each morning, maybe a pancake, and sometimes a full meal after a busy morning.

The Farmhouse Restaurant sat next to Interstate 84, not by accident I’m sure. Truckers with log books chowed down at some tables. On another would be a family stopping for food in the middle of a trip. A tired looking mom, a dad dressed in shorts, socks, and sandals, and kids wearing t-shirts that proved a national park’s gift store had been visited. A traveling businessman would be sitting at a table looking out of place because of his suit and tie, furrowed brow, as he wrestled with papers in and out of his briefcase.

Among these travelers sat the regulars. Farmers, dairymen, and a few retirees that stopped in every morning at the same time, sat at the same table, and tried to tell the same jokes. We were family for the short time we were there. We had different backgrounds, may not have seen each other outside of the restaurant, but if you sit across a room from somebody for a couple of years you develop a relationship. He becomes part of your life even if it’s just background. If somebody doesn’t show up for a few days you found an unexplained need to start asking questions. When the guy came back you demanded an explanation for his absence maybe even asking for a note excusing him. Disappearing was not allowed unless, of course, it was hunting season.

Some regulars would walk in with a hearty greeting for everyone, throwing waves around the room. Others preferred to use a stealth approach, walk from the front door to their table as quickly and quietly as possible. Some sat alone as they studied the morning paper. Some looked for the table where court would be held each morning deliberating the issues of the day. Sports were wide open for discussion, politics were okay, as long as the views weren’t too divergent, religion-only if it involved borrowing the church’s lawn mower. Scandalous stories were always welcome. Gossip was not. I heard there was a difference.

Occasionally a group of deep thinkers would be entranced while someone presented his idea of modifying a piece of equipment, a new way to fool the Internal Revenue Service, or how he could get three more miles per gallon. The idea would be carefully sketch out on table stationary (a napkin) in the middle of the table so everyone could see. Everyone would be in awe for about two minutes until a remark would be made by the table’s wise-guy causing the table to erupt in guffaws and laughter. The presenter would then withdraw his thesis and regret he ever thought these bohemians were capable of appreciating his brilliance. But he would be back at the same table the next day with revisions.

It was because of this morning gathering I saw people work and retire. I saw farewell breakfasts to children going away to college or the military. I also saw the “Hey! Look who is back in town!” breakfasts too. I found myself at high school sporting events cheering for kids I didn’t know but were the grandchild of some proud grandfather I had coffee with. I saw kids grow up. I watched battles waged with cancer. I got an hour snapshot of people’s lives each day and they got a snapshot of mine. We were unconsciously connecting.

The Farmhouse Restaurant was unique but not unusual. Idaho is made up of small communities with less than 5,000, 180 are incorporated and countless more are not. I don’t know if they all have a meeting place. The Farmhouse was in Wendell, across the river is Jackson’s in Buhl. You can drop in at the Stampede Burger in Gooding. Jerome has Choates and Shoshone has The Manhattan. In Burley you go to Charlie’s and in Rupert you go to the Wayside, maybe you go to both. Star has the Star Country Café unless you go to the Nathan’s Greenleaf Café. Nez Perce doesn’t have a coffee shop. No worries, there is an astute group that meets each morning at Bell’s Equipment. You can get coffee and a green tractor.

It’s not just an Idaho thing. If you are in Lynden, Washington you go to Dutch Mother’s, and in Manhattan, Montana go to the Garden Café if you go anywhere.

Fifty years ago it was Hank’s in Artesia, California, or Taylor’s in Chino. Before that Socrates ambled up the steps of the Parthenon to the moans and groans of his morning comrades as they wondered what “great thought” he was going to question them on that day.

I really wonder if the customers and the coffee shops are interchangeable. Is it just the names that are different?

So, to Stephanie, the owner of the Farmhouse Restaurant, and all the servers, waitresses, cooks, dishwashers, cashiers—Thank you. Thanks for the listening, the bantering, and the courtesy laugh for the lousy puns. You picked me up when I was down and knocked me down when I was a little too up. Thanks for sharing a few stories and hearing mine. All this for a lousy 50 cent tip. I hope you didn’t spend it all in one place.

To my fellow diners, the Farmhouse Restaurant is gone and some guys aren’t with us anymore. The art of the experience was to make it look like we didn’t care who showed up and who didn’t. But we noticed, we cared. Life goes on now but something is missing.

It was never about the coffee. It was about all of you.