There is a place that I love to eat at in the summer. It's the kind of place that only locals and well-informed tourists can find, as it has no website, no signage, and in fact no real menu to speak of. It sits on a somewhat dilapidated pier that juts out over the water and looks upon more well-heeled establishments on the opposite shore. The tables and chairs are plastic, the owners' black labs amicably greet you in the driveway, and it's strictly BYOB--BYO hors d' oeurves, too. The atmosphere, in short, simply can't be beat, and it has long been a treasured place to bring friends for a few hours of lounging by the water and enjoying perfect seafood. T. and I found the place by accident years ago, after lamenting that a former favorite place of ours a few miles away had lost its charm after it started putting directions from Boston on the placemats.
But the best part of the place was Teddy, the owner. He was raucous and frequently foul-mouthed, and told hilarious off-color stories. He was well-traveled and engaged in fascinating business ventures and side projects, and always had a crazy story at the ready. And, he never told the same story twice. T. and I, and loads of friends who also came to love the place, spent countless nights drinking beers and smoking cigars with Teddy on that deck, long after our meals were finished and everyone around us had left. Well, we drank and smoked, since Teddy really did neither.
The place is only open in the summer, and as I told Teddy last summer, the last time I saw him, he "was summer to me." Each spring, I look forward to seeing the umbrellas appear on the pier--the only way to know that they are open again. Each spring, I look forward to our leisurely meals on that pier, listening to Teddy's crazy stories and getting the scoop on his winter hijinks.
When I saw Teddy last summer, I knew that he wasn't doing well. In fact, over the last few years, he'd had a number of incidents. Although he wasn't particularly old, he suffered from some chronic medical conditions, and he seemed weaker last summer, more vulnerable. And yet, still himself, still full of piss and vinegar. We had one hell of a night that night, and I remember telling him how much he and the place meant to me.
We've tried to go a bunch of times this summer, but the weather has been dreadful, and the place doesn't really work in the rain. I've been worried all summer that maybe he didn't make it through the winter. I worried all last spring about the same thing, though, and there he was last summer, larger than life. This year, though, there were little signs everywhere telling me that maybe he didn't make it. . .a renovation on his house that seemed half done for a very long time, other things that just seemed amiss and unlike the usual bustle that surrounded his place.
So, it was with some trepidation that we made our way over there this past weekend. Teddy wasn't around, but we went in the afternoon, and he often wasn't around in the afternoon. His wife waited on us, and she seemed a little different, a little quieter than normal. T. and I and our friend talked about how he was maybe out fishing, out busy with some task. But when I went to use the bathroom, I knew. To use the bathroom, you used to have to walk through Teddy's elaborate basement workshop, a maze of tools and equipment and grease. It was one of the charms of the place. On this day, however, the workshop was gone, with what equipment was left relegated to a small corner of the basement. T. talked to Teddy's wife, out of my earshot, and asked about him, and she said they lost him this past spring. His face looked funny when he returned to the table, and he ushered me out of there pretty quickly. He'd promised that he wouldn't tell me until we were in the car.
He was just a guy that I'd see when I patronized his restaurant, but he was something of a summer icon for me, and it makes me incredibly sad that he's gone.