While living in Ireland in 1998, Catherine was surprised to find herself one summer working as a waitress in a little café in the popular destination town of Kinvara. Nestled in a crook of Galway Bay in the West of Ireland, Kinvara is a place of megalithic tombs, holy wells, a 14th century castle, ancient cairns, Irish music, and weekly set-dancing. Out of her experience, Catherine wrote the book “God is in Rosaleen’s Restaurant.” This blog comes from her book.
“How do you like your steak?” I’d ask.
As a vegetarian for more than twenty years, I found this question ludicrous. I like my steak on the cow where it belongs. Most people like theirs well-done.
Every job always has something that’s hard to swallow.
Back home in the US waitresses fear chefs. There is a tension between them that literally can become palatable. I remember a friend telling me how she dreaded returning anything to the kitchen, especially after the chef threw a potato at her.
At Rosaleen’s Restaurant, however, comradeship existed between us. Any tensions disappeared as we focused together in the preparation of steak, lamb, fish, and vegetable. At times, three of us fluttered around a single serving: the chef, pouring sauce and garnishing the plate, her assistant placing doilies on dishes and slicing bread, and me waiting to whisk the plate to the customer so to deliver the meal hot.
This shared longing to serve our best was perhaps what the customer tasted most.
“How do you like to polish your silver?” Mona, the dishwasher, asked me one night. “Do you like the silver wet or dry?”
I laughed out loud. I had no idea! I had never polished silver in my life. Never in my life thought about polishing silver. Never planned, aspired, or longed to polish silver. Yet, polishing silver was part of my job and I was supposed to know how to do it.
How often life turns us around and expects us to know how to do something. How to watch a child die, how to care for an elderly parent, how to fight cancer.
“I suppose I like my silver wet,” I said.
At the end of the night the toilets were swept, mirrors wiped, and trash bins emptied. The ladies’ and gents’ toilets look exactly alike, but I prickled all over while standing inside the gents’. Ready to bolt, I couldn’t wait to finish with the chore. Years of conditioning, years of identifying with one gender and separating from the other, screamed inside me with just one simple act.
One night I noticed fingerprints on the glass case that holds deserts: Banoffi pie, apple crumble, profiteroles with butterscotch sauce, Bailey’s cheesecake. I remembered two customers peering in, sampling with their mind’s eye, leaning into the case as if to swallow all the deserts whole.
I quickly wiped the fingerprints away, but my haste only smeared the glass with an uglier film. How often we think we’re cleaning something up, only to make it more of a mess.
Five days before I started to work at Rosaleen’s Restaurant, I had a dream. So many customers entered the restaurant that I couldn’t serve them fast enough. They were helping themselves, making their own cappuccinos and lattes, leaving coffee grinds everywhere, moving the counter askew, spilling foamed milk. Then an overweight lady entered. She sat on a chair and it broke beneath her. Splayed wood and rolled flesh lay in a heap on the floor.
Our fears are always more frightening than our reality.
“Thank you, that’s lovely,” the woman said when I handed back her five-pence change. The Irish often say money is lovely. Not in general conversation, but when it is exchanged. This always struck me as odd. Flowers, children, and kittens are lovely, not twenty euro notes or VISA cards.
But perhaps it’s really the exchange that they find lovely. Perhaps it’s the support for one another’s services and talents and the acknowledgement of our interdependence that is so lovely.
Catherine still finds herself in the kitchen 20 years later, only in Italy making gnocchi along with the village women.