From the 1950's to 1967, Mom worked as a waitress in a East Hollywood coffee shop on the corner of Hollywood and Western called Toppy's. It was a good place to work in one respect: it was close to Desilu Studios. William Shatner and Leonard Nimoy frequented the place while filming early episodes of Star Trek, and Mom once brought home autographed photos of them for me, which I still have. Toppy's also sold delicious large cookies with a dollop of chocolate in the middle; I haven't had one in years but I recall how utterly wonderful they were when I was a kid, when all that sugar (not high fructose corn syrup) and chocolate hit my young and un-jaded taste buds.
Something about this place must have seemed interesting to Mom when she first arrived in California, because I still have about five minutes of 8mm home movie footage she shot, dated 1960, of nothing but the cars going by on the corner of Sunset and Western. Was she testing the camera? Did she plan to send this to relatives in New Hampshire with a proud note stating that she was working at a fabled Los Angeles intersection? I have no idea; she would never say. Forty-five-plus years on it's kind of interesting looking at those old cars and storefronts, though.
When we moved to Burbank in 1965 the commute to Toppy's was too long for Mom, so she eventually found closer work at a coffee shop in Glendale called the Cracker Barrel. She worked there from 1967 to 1968. The primary thing I remember about this place was the shop across the plaza that sold comic books. Mom would occasionally take me to the Barrel to eat dinner in the galley where the food was prepared - which I thought was cool, being an insider - and I would sit and eat, thumbing through the pages of a comic book I had just purchased. Once, sitting with Mom's gang (the manager and some of the other waitresses), I deeply gouged the side of my leg on a table leaf spring that was sticking out. I bled like a stuck pig (I recall many soaked paper napkins) and still have a scar from the incident. But it was fun to observe the worried waitresses, who fussed over me. I'm pretty sure I got a big chocolate sundae out of that one.
Mom moved on to a coffee shop called the Copper Penny, again in Glendale. I remember complaints about her fellow waitresses; apparently she and they didn't get along. The menus were printed on huge plastic copper pennies; Mom brought one of these home and for a while I used to enjoy flinging it around in the back yard. Smacking it against the fences or targets, it had a heft and impact that a Frisbee just didn't have!
I'm pretty sure Mom had had enough of the Copper Penny after a year or so. She got a job at Sargents, which was just down the street from us on 1100 North Victory Boulevard in Burbank. I have spoken to a number of people who recall this restaurant fondly, including my wife, who used to go there with her parents as a child. As you can see from the postcard images I have included here, it was a Southern-styled (or, more accurately, a Hillbilly-styled) place. The specialties of the house were hush puppies, a delicious fried cornbread. Slathering them with butter or honey, I could eat, oh, about 325 of them.
Sargents was owned and run by an older couple named Marvis and Graham who, according to Mom, were pretty strict. The place was filled with antiques, and the one that impressed me the most was a very large grandfather clock in the foyer. We had a grandfather clock ourselves, but this one was better because it had a seascape/landscape in the moon dial. It reminded me of the great clock in the foyer of Collinwood, in TV's Dark Shadows. It was also taller than I was. As I only respect grandfather clocks that are taller than I am (6' 3", for the record), I greatly admired this clock.
As a condition of working there, Mom was required to wear a calico pinafore, and I remember being parked in front of the place while she picked up the pattern from one of the other waitresses. It seemed like an eternity, while she was asking question after question about sewing and construction. In fact, it was so long that, bored, I constructed an odd little mental exercise as I began to ruminate on the subject of time. I decided to put into place a sort of mental time buoy, a point in time from which all future events could be measured. Despite the fact that, at the time, I made a concerted mental note of the time, day and month of the time buoy, I can only state that this was sometime in the Spring of 1969. So much for abstracted precision thinking on my part.
Mom quickly made friends of the Sargents waitresses. There was stout and red-headed Lois, who had a loud, excited laugh that could shatter glass. For a while Mom thought it was a good idea for me to attend a non-denominational church in Burbank where Lois worshipped, the Village Church on Victory Boulevard. Perhaps Lois identified me as a young pagan badly in need of religious instruction. Lois' loud and off-key singing embarrassed me. The sermons were given by Pastor Kermit Jeffries - hard to forget a name like that - whose speaking style continually modulated from a low speaking voice into a high-pitched shout and back again. What struck me was that a year or so prior to this I had read Mark Twain's The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, which had an unforgettable passage about a preacher speaking in this very same style. I was impressed by the continuity of it all. However, not being the religious type when young, I stopped going to church with Lois despite the fact that Dad had purchased me a dark green double breasted suit coat specifically dedicated for church wear. He got it at the Akron, an odd place for clothes as it was a sort of forerunner to Pier One Imports. It was made somewhere in the Orient and smelled like bamboo.
There was also Mary, with whom we became especially chummy. Mary was wiry and had back-East mannerisms. Her husband had recently passed away, which somehow made Mom and Mary close. However, the primary attraction about Mary, to me, was her teenaged daughter Angela, who became one of my greatest friends. I still recall the evening before I met Angela: Mom had stated that the following night we would have dinner at Mary's house, and that she had a daughter named Angela, with whom she was sure I'd get along. It was a windy early evening, and I rode my bicycle out to the railroad tracks and watched two big metaphorical cypress trees swaying in the twilight. As I watched them I knew that my life was about to change with the introduction to Mary and Angela.
Dinner was a success as Mary was a great cook and Angela continually cracked me up using words like "Gross!" and "Barf!" with appropriately put-out expressions on her face. Her dachshund Suzy was fun, too. Angela occasionally pulled her ears upright and called her Anubis, the Jackal Dog. But the thing that tied us together more than anything was a shared interest in Dark Shadows, which I had discovered a month or so before we met. Being completely puzzled by the back-story I spent a lot of time with Angela on the phone trying to figure out what was going on. The four of us would gather to eat pizza at Rico's Pizza in Burbank every Monday night, which greatly relieved the boredom and tedium of my usual Mondays.
In 1971 Marvis and Graham decided to give up the restaurant business, which meant that Mom and the other employees were out of work. It also meant that the hush puppy, one of the great tastes of Burbank, could be found no more. Marvis and Graham later opened an antique store in Studio City they named Anthony Quinn Antiques, because Graham's real name was Anthony, or some such thing. I forget. It wasn't long before they were contacted by the lawyer of the actor Anthony Quinn, demanding that they either close their business or change their name. Despite this, they stayed open for a while but closed shop when one of them died - I forget which one.
Mom soon found work running a bar on Empire Avenue called The Alibi, which primarily served as a lunch spot for Lockheed workers. When the Alibi closed in the spring of 1974 she took the family savings and opened a place of her own, the Lincoln Café.
But that's another story.