No Time to Wash the Smallest Spoon

It’s summer after a long lockdown in Italy and that means “Tutti al mare” (Everybody to the sea)! While I’m not at the seaside, I am taking some time off. So, we return to Ireland in 1998, when I found myself working as a waitress in a little café in the popular tourist 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 my experience, I wrote the book “God is in Rosaleen’s Restaurant.” For the next few posts, I’ll be sharing passages from this book along with Rosaleen’s artwork.

14

Artwork by Roseleen Tanham, http://kava.ie/rosaleen-tanham/

“Would you like veg and potato with that?” I asked.

“What kind of potatoes are they?” In Ireland, this is a not a trivial question. The supermarket aisle is lined with bags of white, loose records, golden wonder, red, kerrs pink, and baking potatoes. Some are flowery, some are not. Some are for frying, some are not.

For me they are just potatoes, pommes de terre, apples of the earth, round things that grow in the dark underground. But I learned to say, “They’re new potatoes. Boiled. They’re lovely.”

Jennys spiral

They wanted coffee to go, but then they sat down. Soon it was all over their table, a pool of brown cream, coffee and sugar.

Three young lads, knackered, sloshed, glassy-eyed.

“What do you want to forget with all your drink?” I longed to ask. Instead, I wiped their table clean.

Tea cup

It was the bank holiday weekend in May and the Monday was warm and sunny with a hint of sea breeze. That evening, between myself, one other waitress, the chef and dishwasher, we served 90 people dinner. Piles of dishes collected in the kitchen through the evening, as Mona had no time to wash the smallest spoon. The chef needed her to garnish plates of chicken breast, fry chips, and cook vegetables.

When the last customer went out the door, we all gave a great sigh of relief. Soon the kitchen buzzed with activity. Counters became buried under piles of stacked saucers, dinner plates, cutlery, and glasses.

“We served 90 people! Wasn’t that great?” Mona said, her hands buried in soapy water. All I could think of was how horrified I had become when we ran out of water glasses and, in the middle of serving tables, I had to wash and dry a dozen.

Mona’s gleeful pride in our communal success jolted my self-centered indignation. Her enthusiasm for the job well-done and teamwork bubbled with the suds beneath her elbows.

It was contagious.

“Unbelievable, Mona,” I said. “Simply great!”

Cup

The tourists were obvious. They were the only ones in summer wearing Aran sweaters and raincoats over shorts and bare tan legs. They were the only ones to carry umbrellas. They never asked what kind of potatoes the meal came with. They often ate with maps spread and tour books opened.

The Americans were usually loud, the women sometimes adorned with shamrock scarves. They often looked stunned by the late summer evenings and long days of driving on the wrong side of the road. They were curious about how I came to Ireland and talked about themselves — how it was their first day in Ireland, that they just happened upon the town of Kinvara, that their family name is Murphy, and their grandmother once lived in County Mayo.

They were like children in an Irish Disneyland of castles, craic, and fairy stones, while the rest of us struggled with long winters, daily chores, and high taxes.

Jennys spiral

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