I grew up in Cambridge, at a time when families lived and died in the same homes or within the same neighborhoods for generations. While researching my family tree recently, I was surprised to learn I was actually related to a few of my neighbors through marriages that took place long before I was even born.
We knew each other’s histories, successes, failures and we shared our stories in local gathering places like coffee shops, and taverns. Neighbors from every walk of life populated these establishments, fireman, police, carpenters, lawyers, morticians and politicians which added color and controversy to the daily list of animated discussions which played out each morning until noon. My neighborhood spot was called Freddy’s, after the owner Freddy Addonizio who could be found most every day sitting on the end stool at the end of the bar.
I often wondered if Freddy ran this shop just for the social entertainment. Most of the regular patrons poured their own coffee, prepared their own breakfast and cashed out their tabs from behind the counter while Freddy moderated the topic of the day. I was a regular… even as a young kid… every morning I waited for the school bus sipping a regular coffee (regular means w/cream and sugar) and a honey dip donut. What I enjoyed more than the coffee and donut was the trust I received by Freddy and the coffee shop community to serve myself and be trusted to pay dues… It meant a lot to me and I coveted it. I can’t say as much for others though…..
My mom occasionally stopped by Freddy’s on her way to work to grab a quick sandwich or coffee and to exchange barbs with the more salty types. One day Freddy called out to her from the end stool and asked … “Hey Mary, you going to pay a bit on your tab today???”
Now you have to know my mom… she has always been a highly independent woman and in her mind, If we couldn’t afford something we didn’t need it…period. She would never run a tab, not ever.
Hearing the question she replied indignantly, What Tab? …. I was told her tone not only drew everyone’s attention but it also solicited a choir of uuuuhhhh ooooohhh’s. The tab your son Kevin (age 10) has been building …..he guaranteed was on your OK….
He’s been eating lunch here just about every day for a few weeks and has run up quite a bill. The kids a real big spender!
You know that period when things go dead silent just before the tsunami of laugher starts… She relied ………I’ll Kill Him! …. cue to laughter Tsunami…..
My mother always threatened to kill us whenever she got bad reports about one of her son’s… which meant we were in deep trouble. She did pay the bill and gave the coffee shop constabulary another hilarious story to embellish, retell for ages and add to our local lore.
The story in the end however did not sit well with my brother Kevin ……or should I say Kevin did not sit well on his end …….after my mother shared her feelings directly to his end ……about his running a up a tab, which he agreed never to do again.
Freddy’s coffee shop is long gone now (pictured here as an Indian take out) and so are the tight knit neighborhoods I grew up in. The neighborhood stories are fond memories that still play out in my mind. They were woven like a tapestry through our social interaction that preceded Facebook. I believe everyone and every neighborhood has a place like Freddy’s … where everyone knows your name and your story… Let’s have a cup of coffee and share stories while others run the tab. I bet we could tell some like mine that are warm in the end…… I take mine now just cream, no sugar.