I do not know why we picked this particular pizza place. The close proximity to the sari shop probably served as my parents impetus to try this restaurant. Sliding into the small, but cozy space, only a few guests could choose to dine in this establishment. The walls were bare and you could smell the cigarette smoke coming from some of the employees. I don’t think my parents realized that they inadvertently discovered a “hole-in-the wall” place to eat.
The evenings when we frequented this pizza place contained an easy rhythm. The familiarity of certainty added an element of comfort. When my father opened the smudged glass doors, a bell dinged. As we walked in, the swirl of tomato sauce, baked pizza crust, and the faint smell of cologne greeted our arrival. My father walked up to a single counter in the back near the pizza ovens, where he talked to the owner. It was one of those places where the staff wanted to know your name. They talked, but I am unclear what words were exchanged. A laughter brewed between the two of them and I heard the voice of my father saying, “Make sure the pizza is extra crispy. It is ok if it takes some time.” The bearded gentleman always said, “Ok. You got it.” He grabbed the white styrofoam cups handed them over to my father.
It took forty minutes for the pizza to come out of the oven. Extra-crispy always took some time. Our family talked about nothing in particular. So much time has passed since those pizza days, that my mind has lost the substance of what we actually said.
I do remember the feelings, though. The energy centered on light, laughter, and the feeling that says, “They are family.” When the piping hot pizza came to our table, my father’s friend said, “Enjoy, guys.” We all took a bite and commented how the cheese and crunch were a perfect combination. I think my father enjoyed the fact that we appreciated his extra-crispy request.
This past month I learned that after fifty years that pizza place is closing its doors. I ran across the headline on my Facebook feed and read it twice, almost like I was deciphering a foreign language. I thought of my father, family and the time we spent there. The feelings of sadness, nostalgia, loss, happiness, and sorrow hit me in a panic.
As I write about this, I am struck by the fact that I can only revisit this memory with my father in my head. This abrupt realization creates a rush of fear like I am in free-fall on a roller coaster.
I say out loud to no one, “It wasn’t just a pizza place.”