I’ve waffled at times on my decision to add her other maternal great-grandparents to my new novel, What’s Left. It was already a big book with a big story when their role expanded, even as I was repeatedly pondering what else could be eliminated without detracting from the whole.
One bold quick cut would take Ilias and Maria out altogether. The story line would be tighter if Bella’s parents had simply rejected her when she tells them she’s marrying into Cassia’s family. But Ilias the Cypriot Greek and his wife, the Cuban-born Maria, insist on inserting their own spicy ingredients to the stew.
For one thing, they strengthen Bella’s emerging role as the family matriarch. For another, they loosen the symmetry of the brothers/brothers-in-law and sisters/sisters-in-law at the helm of the family restaurant that had hired Bella at the outset of the war years. And, my, how they dote on her baby Dimitri and then his brothers and sisters as they come along.
Their embellishments add humanity and warmth. And so they move in – and stay.
I’ve become a big believer in adopting people into the family – one’s who aren’t blood relations but belong all the same. Is that something you, too, do?
Who is your favorite family member? What makes that person special? How do you think that individual sees you in return?
Successful restaurants, or so I’ve read, can go downhill overnight. The public can be fickle, on one side, and the operation itself, on the other, can implode. Oh, the stories we could tell!
In my new novel, What’s Left, her parents’ generation takes bold steps to anticipate changes in American food tastes. They brazenly agree to slightly re-position their landmark burger-and-fries restaurant (now called Carmichael’s Indiana) and the bar (the Taverna) while adding two new venues, one upscale (Carmichael’s Starlight), the other vegetarian (Bliss).
Though I cut this from the final version, I still love the taste of it on me tongue:
And the new Carmichael’s Stardust usually offered something daring, for our neck of the woods, depending on how we were feeling and how adventurous our customers were responding. Lamb shanks, anyone? Artichokes? Cornish hens? Brussels sprouts? We were expanding their horizons.
Well, that would have been pretty daring for the mid-’70s! We’ve come a long way since, something I’ll assume the Stardust menu has pursued. Vegetarian, meanwhile, has become both stricter and more innovative through its vegan adherents. I’m not at all surprised to find how often our meals fall into its range, even without trying. As for a late-night gathering spot? The Taverna strikes me as a step up from a typical bar. Makes me think, in fact, of the late lamented Barley Pub here in town.
Think of your own tastes. Which of the restaurants would be your first choice?
In his prime, as his parents and their siblings recede from the business, Stavros is free to operate largely as an autocrat.
Is that really such a good thing? Or does his wife, Bella, keep him in line?
As my draft once explained:
He’s not only preserved Papou Ari’s concept of our own Mount Olympus, he’s expanded and upgraded its holdings. The once neglected in-town blocks are gaining new panache.
I doubt Stavros would have seen his position as nearly so liberated. He probably would have seen himself hedged in by suppliers, prices, customers’ expectations, health inspectors, taxes – oh, can’t you just hear him rattling off a long list?
Imagine yourself as the boss in your own dream job. What would that be? And what policies or practices would you do uniquely your own way?
There’s no escaping food itself or American culinary trends in my new novel, What’s Left – not when the family’s livelihood and fortune are built around their landmark restaurant. What I did, however, escape is a story relating the day-to-day cartoon sequences of a kitchen demimonde of cooks, dishwashers, and wait staff, out of sight in the back, and the quirky demands of customers beyond the swinging service door and long countertop, out in front. My daughter, a pro in the hospitality industry, already has a fine draft of a novel addressing those, thank you. Besides, I touched on some of those incidents in the opening chapters of my novel, Promise.
Since my new work grows out of a template established at the ending of my first published novel, where her parents’ generation is already immersed in change, it seemed natural to have them look toward innovation and evolution rather than remain tradition-bound in hamburgers and fried chicken. For one thing, they were toying with Buddhism, with its vegetarian traditions.
Let me say simply that the possibilities have led to many heated discussions in our household, married as I am to a well-informed foodie and genius cook in her own right. And that’s before we get to the aforesaid daughter.
In the time since Cassia’s parents’ marriage, the awareness of food options and availability of ingredients in America has advanced by light years.
In my new novel, What’s Left, her maternal grandparents are both dead before her birth – they’re victims of a late-night collision on a rural highway. But they cast a big influence over her life, all the same.
Stavros and Bella are second-generation Americans, bridging hard work and success to establish the family restaurant, Carmichael’s, as the campus landmark it becomes.
In my new novel, What’s Left, the family’s nest egg was built by living on one income – in a single household – while everyone worked at the restaurant. The surplus went into savings and investments. Once the kids come along, their earnings also go in the pooled income, to be drawn out for college or marriage. Over time, as the family grows, the house has parents, grandparents, kids, aunts, uncles, and cousins. What a circus!
As for pocket money? Take it from the till? Some places, yes. And some places, no.
They’re about to start over, in a way, when Cassia’s father-to-be shows up.