That’s my mom, with her beehive hairdo, behind the counter at the Blue Gable Café, a modest diner that was in a little white clapboard house on old 421 in Julian, before the bypass was built.
It’s 1966. She’s 16 years old, and this is her first job, coordinated by the work-study program, Distributive Education, at Southeast Guilford High School. Ruby Roberts, Blue Gable’s owner — she’s in the picture, too, laughing, with her daughter and grandson — entrusted my mom with taking care of the whole front of the house, wrapping silverware, wiping down counters, serving all the diners.
Mom was a good waitress because she was so easygoing and happy — in her high school yearbook, she won the title of “DE Sweetheart.” She knew everyone who came in; at lunch, the place filled with employees from Gilmore Plant and Bulb nursery across the street; on Sundays, families from Liberty came after church. She knew who wanted chowchow on their pintos and how often to refill glasses of tea, and when she cleared away the dishes, she always asked, her sweet Southern voice singing out, “Y’all ready for some pie?”
Everybody always wanted pie.
The Blue Gable had cobbler and banana pudding, but it was the pie that people remembered: lemon meringue, coconut cream, strawberry, apple. Just the basics. Nothing fancy.
“You just don’t see that like you used to,” my mom said to me one evening when we’d gone out to eat. “Seems like desserts have gotten so complicated.”
Maybe so. I’ve eaten in hundreds of restaurants in this state, and I’ve had to learn what profiteroles are. I didn’t grow up with brûlées or lemon curd or piped icing. In my family, cake was for special occasions, but pie was for everyday, served on no-frills melamine. The pies I knew were easy: not much more than sugar, eggs, milk, and butter in a chess pie; egg whites and sugar for the meringue on chocolate.
Pie was for conversation across a lunch counter, coat still on, feet twirling the swivel stool. Pie was familiar — the pecans came from the same tree that shaded the hammock in my grandmother’s backyard. Pie was casual, eaten on a front porch, on a picnic table, on a paper plate balanced on one knee while sitting in a folding chair at a family reunion.
My mom and I drove down to Julian a few weeks ago, to see if the Blue Gable was still there. The little white house is still standing, and the gables are still painted royal blue, but the windows are covered over. Doesn’t look like it’s been a restaurant for a long, long time. We parked in the same spot where my mom once pulled her ’53 Mercury, and I listened to her share this memory, her sweet Southern voice singing out, and I thought about how that café, in its day, had the secret: that things don’t need to be fancy to be loved, that the simplest things become our greatest luxuries.