|Mary (in white) and some of the Lobster Pot lunch crew parade-watching.|
Late afternoon, 1979. Walking on Commercial Street in Provincetown. Almost done with winter. I passed the Mayflower Restaurant and saw my buddy Rod sitting in a window-booth. He beckoned me in and introduced me to the woman sitting across the table from him. I’d seen this woman around town since I’d arrived there seven years earlier but didn’t know her. She was Mary Brock, Rod said. A native, born right up the street. “Sit down,” she said, scooting over. “My neck’s gettin’ sore whipping back and forth ‘cause so many cute guys are walking by.” She was sixty-five. I didn’t know it but I’d just met a woman who’d become as great a friend as anyone could wish for. Mary was, as they say, full of piss and vinegar.
When some friends and I – we’d worked at the Lobster Pot together and with Mary, who was hostess/cashier there – when we bought a restaurant in Vermont one of us thought to name the restaurant Mary B’s. She was thrilled when she flew up from Florida for the opening and saw her name on the sixteen-foot-long sign on our building. Eventually we got busy enough to have a full-time hostess, and that couldn’t be anyone but the restaurant’s namesake.
Meanwhile, one of the loyal customers keeping us busy was a two-star General who headed up the Vermont Air Guard. He was about six-five, a big handsome guy with a silvered crew-cut and admirable posture. He liked to wear his uniform with the usual splash of colorful medals on his chest. He and his girlfriend liked a certain table in a corner. Once Mary took on the hostess duties, had taken charge of what she called “the floor,” she was bound to eventually encounter The General at the door. When it happened he looked down at Mary and said, “We like to sit over there.” Mary, leaning her head way back to look up at him, said, “My job here is to seat people and you sit where I tell you to.” He was briefly taken aback but then he rather admired this sassy little old lady who’d dared speak to him in a manner he was not accustomed to, and he grew to love her.
Years after we’d sold that restaurant we took Mary along when we were visiting friends in Burlington. (Since she'd been in Vermont they'd passed a law that there was no smoking in restaurants; Mary was appalled.) Ahead on Church Street I saw The General coming toward us. I saw him recognize Mary B. Then I saw him running toward us to give her a hug.
|12 Railroad Avenue; Essex Junction, Vermont|
One time Mary crocheted me an afghan. “I’ll be over to get it,” I said, but I didn’t get over fast enough to please her. “When are you gonna come and get your afghan?” she asked scoldingly. “Soon,” I said. I was working two jobs in those days, for crying out loud, plus another guy and I were building a house in our spare time. Mary lived at 100 Bradford Street, on the second floor. She had a big picture window that looked out on the street, flanked by smaller sash windows. One evening she saw me coming up Bradford on my bike. “Here’s your afghan,” she yelled, hanging out the window. I looked up and the brightly colored afghan was slowly wafting down, floating back and forth and in a spiral pattern.
|Whenever Mary entered the bar at the Ritz-Carlton in Fernandina Beach,|
Florida, the pianist, Chris, automatically segued into "Old Cape Cod"
Mary was a master of the snappy comeback. You didn't want to get into a spat with her because there was no way you were going to get the last word in. Even when she was well into her nineties I heard her and her son Bobby giving each other shit, sassin' back-n-forth, and neither one was going to let the other have the last word. Bobby was holding his own for about twenty rounds. He was doing great. He was almost as good as she was, but in the end he wasn't the one who got the last word in.
|Mark and Mary in New Hampshire.|
I saw Mary do things and I'd wonder how the hell she could get away with them. Ten or twelve times I watched as various young couples with young babies come into Mary B’s. Invariably the baby would start crying. Mary would simply go to the table, tell the parents she’d take the baby so that they could enjoy their meal. They never challenged her! They (rightly) trusted her. She'd hold the baby in her arms, poke it in the chest and say, “No, we don’t do that in here ... we don't cry when we're in a restaurant!” And I swear ... no exaggeration here ... the baby would stop crying. While the parents had a peaceful dinner, Mary continued greeting and seating people, menus in one hand, the baby in the other. She'd take the baby into the kitchen to meet the staff back there, she'd wander from the dining room where you could smoke to the one where you couldn't, and you would not hear a peep from any of those babies as long as they were in her arms, as long as they were on the move. I could never figure out what this magic touch was ... something in her deep voice maybe, some baby-smart trust, I just didn't know. One time, though, I watched as one baby stared as if in astonishment at Mary's vividly red fingernails! Maybe it was nothing but the fascination of bright shiny red fingernail polish.
|Mary in Bonita Springs, visiting us and Mark's parents.|
Happy Birthday Sweetheart! I miss you every day.