The following is a column by Kathy Nolan Deschenes. To submit your own column, e-mail the editor at [email protected]
We were sitting at a table in the corner so we were able to take in all of the restaurant from there. It’s an old building – restored, improved, added onto. But the wood is original and it’s all you see: floors, walls, ceilings, beams.
The Mill on the Floss is an ancient place in the Berkshires. It used to be an inn at one point but now it’s a French restaurant. It has a long history and the maitre’d explains some of it to the two couples at the next table.
When he gets to the 1940s, I smile. He describes the previous owners who bought it then and made it what it is today.
“That’s my aunt and uncle,” I say softly to my husband. Hearing your family history as described by strangers to strangers is a unique experience.
My grandmother’s sister moved to NYC to get out of Lowell as soon as she could. She had no desire to be stuck in a mill city. In NYC, she met and married a rich older man who was taken with her smarts and her beauty.
My aunt then went to cooking school to follow a dream. When she graduated, my uncle bought her the Mill on the Floss and she became the chef. It was basic American fare but the locals loved it. The Mill is close to Williamstown and a short drive from NY and the artistic and educated filled the tables.
My aunt told a story about how the Clarks (from the Clark Museum fame) used to come for the Thursday night roast beef special. They were millionaires but still wanted good ole home cooking at a good price.
My aunt and uncle ran the Mill until the late 1970s. By then my aunt had hired a chef so she could focus on the business and the mingling. My uncle was the bartender and hand-shaker. Because they were both comfortable running in more elite circles, the Mill became a popular stop for well-bred NY and Berkshire diners.
I look around the restaurant as we sit there and wonder at how little it has changed since I was a kid. The old plates in the corner cabinet could easily be my aunt’s and the expensive oil paintings were likely bought by my uncle.
My husband and I stopped in the kitchen before we left and said hello to the owner – the wife of my aunt’s chef – and her daughter who is now head chef. We talked about who’s gone, including her husband and my parents. My aunt, uncle and grandparents have been gone even longer.
We talked about how their spirits still visit there. There are times when doors open for no reason and the owner says, “It’s your aunt. She loved it here.”
Driving back to the B&B in the dark, I thought about the family history I hold in my mind. I thought about the stories I know but more about the stories I don’t know. There is no one left to fill in the blanks. I am now part of the oldest generation in my family.
Will my niece and nephew be interested in the old stories? Will they pass them on? Or will they die with me? I think about how I have very few stories of family members who died before I was born. How can I expect the next generation to be as interested in these stories as me?
Maybe it’s best that way. The Mill owner has lived in and worked that place now longer than my aunt and uncle did. It’s their story to tell now to their generations. And that’s where my family’s story will live on.