Many know the feeling of moving away from their home community, and when venturing back, finding so much has changed. There are new athletic facilities at the high school with players whose last names are not recognizable. Large potato storage facilities have popped up, while a local church has far fewer members without a pastor. The old family homestead may still stand, but empty of anything other than memories. Simply put if you try to return to a place you remember from the past it won’t be the same as you remember it.
In many ways, over the decades that I have been gone from Hancock where I was raised, or Plainfield where I attended the high school, that sentiment has been very true. But once again this week I was reminded that it does not need to be completely true. Ron’s Family Restaurant in Plainfield is the reason why.
Entering the place on Monday, as the sun was setting and the warm autumn day gave way to evening chill, a vibrant and smiling teenager asked how I was doing. I need to warm up I said, and she let me know instantly that homemade hot soup was just what was required. She was right, the chicken noodle soup was akin to what Grandma would ladle into a bowl.
Becky, the owner, never fails to come by the customers to offer greetings and share tidbits of ‘this or that’. For many years her constant kindness has been, for me, far more important than the food she serves. We asked about her mother, one of the sweetest ladies I ever met, and the person who played the organ at both of my folks’ funerals. As we were talking a woman came in with young kids and they all filled a table behind us. Ron’s is always at its best when there are young people laughing.
Countless times my parents (Royce and Geneva) would sit in a back booth and each time the door opened everyone seemed to look around to find if their neighbor or bowling league friend had come to eat. There were no strangers at Ron’s, everyone seemed to blend over hamburgers, or meatloaf and mashed potatoes.
Monday James and I sat at a table, while in a booth nearby, a man overheard our conversation with the high school student. We reminded the soon-to-be graduating senior to follow passions in life, and that the money would follow. As she contemplated her college plans James mentioned his years at Middlebury, and how to secure education grants. It was that back-and-forth which led the man in the booth to start talking with us as coffee was poured and orders were taken.
He had lived in Israel and studied theology while taking in many of the sites. As the conversation continued, and the plates arrived with hot food, he told us he was from Madison. He had served his church there for 40 years as a pastor. As we talked on and on the importance of Ron’s was more clear in my mind. In most restaurants, no one would ever think of striking up a conversation from where we both were seated, or for the length of time that we enjoyed each other’s company. But Ron’s is so comfortable and friendly feeling that it all but begs no one to be a stranger.
By the time we closed the restaurant down, we had covered many topics, including the mutual fond memories of a state worker at the DNR.
There are certain things in life that should always remain true, and if there can only be a few from back home which remain, I am very glad one of them is Ron’s Restaurant. It is a touchstone to the past and a reminder that one can go home again.
And smile about another good memory.