In my family, my grandparents are, to put it frankly, celebrities. When they walk in the door, the whole place erupts with elation. Shrieks of joy, running feet and a chorus of hellos fill the whole house. This sort of celebrity-status entrance is common for them, not just in our home, but also in Timoleon’s, a local, family-owned diner in New Hampshire. Situated in a brick building on Main Street of the nearby town, this little diner has brought much joy to our family over the years and is the heart of a beloved tradition.
I grew up in a small, rural area, only a meadow away from my cousins. Climb a stonewall, cross the field, climb another stonewall and you’re there. Each summer my maternal grandparents came to visit us. With every visit, they took all the grandchildren out to breakfast at Timoleon’s. Because there were too many of us to all go at once, we went in different groups based on age. Each group eagerly awaited their morning for breakfast.
Akin to their celeb entrances into our home, when my grandparents led this herd of seven kids through the door of Timoleon’s, the wait staff would come from behind the counter to triumphantly welcome us back for another year. The waitresses would hug my grandmother—my grandma hugs everybody. Mike Saunders, a waiter who was the face of the restaurant and a devout Catholic at our parish, came to the door to shake my grandfather’s hand.
It was truly a sight to behold each summer as we all paraded in for our annual custom. After being seated, our grandparents would always tell us, “You can get whatever you want!” Whatever we want! We certainly took advantage of this offer. My cousin, David, once ordered four side orders of bacon with his meal. Despite the shock of the waitress, my grandparents didn’t bat an eye. Needless to say, we became notorious for the large quantities of food we ordered.
There we sat, the table overflowing with bacon and eggs, cinnamon rolls and french toast. The comforting smells of breakfast floated through the air; the clinking of silverware echoed throughout the small restaurant.
My grandmother would tell a story. My grandfather would throw back his head and let out a boisterous laugh. They would ask us about life; we would tell them about our ideas, friends and dilemmas—all between bites of toast and sips of coffee. It was simply wonderful.
As food so often does, these breakfasts—crowded around a worn-down, wobbly table—brought us grandchildren closer to each other and to our grandparents every year. Eating and talking, that’s all we did. To us, there was nothing better. These simple moments at breakfast meant everything to us.
I would sometimes have trouble falling asleep the night before our breakfast outing—practically beside myself with excitement at the thought of a Timoleon’s mug full of hot chocolate and whipped cream! But in truth, it was much more than the excitement of a delicious breakfast that led us to cherish these outings so deeply. Our grandparents have always been sincerely interested in and invested in the lives of all their grandchildren. I’m sure if you asked any one of us who the favorite grandchild is, we’d all respond, “I am!” Each of us felt that we were immeasurably important to them. This closeness was especially felt during our breakfasts at Timoleon’s, and this is what we cherished most.
Our breakfast-at-Timoleon’s tradition is a gift because it has helped to create a culture within our family; one in which we value simple experiences that encourage a deeper relationship with one another. Family unity is certainly not an inheritance; it is not a guaranteed condition. However, a culture of unity within the family can be preserved and fostered through tradition—around the table of an old, beloved diner.