I’ve frequented the same diner since the age of five. My parents would travel an hour away from their rural home with three kids in tow to attend open houses in the suburbs. Touring homes was every kindergartner’s dream—basements became dungeons, attics were castles towering above the highest of clouds. Carpets were begging to be played on, and that elusive fourth bedroom for a family of five was just in reach.
Over the years, a second home found itself at the diner. Waitresses would dote on our family, slipping extra packages of crackers with our vegetable soup and providing an abundance of crayons for us kids to scribble furiously with on placemats. Yet one day, something changed. The kids were in their teenage years, and the dynamic wasn’t what it usually was. Staring into my cracker-less soup, I realized problems sometimes extend beyond the walls of a house.
Fast forward to the present. The four of us, fraternal twins and two close friends from high school, huddle in a booth toward the back of the diner. It’s 9 PM, well after the usual dinnertime rush. With an artist’s flair my friend drizzles syrup and ketchup onto her Belgian waffle. A waitress—a girl our age—spies the unusual combination and eyes our table with the perfect mix of disgust and confusion. We laugh. The hostess seats a group of three older ladies in the booth behind us, and we scramble to the display case of desserts when it is discovered they are, in fact, our teachers from elementary school.
A lot occurred as I matured from a five-year-old to a rising college sophomore. Some hard lessons learned, a life both enriched and complicated by difficult times—I emerged a girl with a more balanced, if not cynical, view of the world and all its unanswered questions. This diner has been there through it all, with its steaming bowls of soup, stained-glass lamps, and artfully arranged bouquets of flowers spilling over the booths.
My mind surfaced from its fog, I recognize the waitress who has served our family since my now-teenage sister was in a high chair. The memories slip into a comfortable loop. I’ve moved on from my standard meal of mac and cheese and refusal to eat broccoli. But when I eat that first spoonful of chocolate ice cream, I realize some things never change. That’s a reassuring thing.