Friday, August 17, 2012

Our Place!

     It's great to know who you are and what you were born to do on this earth as early as the age of 7 years old. My given name is Avery Pearl, but for some reason everyone calls me Sookie and it has stuck to me like white on rice. Every since I could remember, I wanted to be a chef and would help my dad and mom everyday in our family restaurant. August and Isabelle Pearl were the first people in our family to own a business. We lived on the south side of Chicago Illinois and it was 1970 when everybody we knew sported big Afros and wore bell bottoms. The Isley Brothers and Earth Wind and Fire songs were blaring out of radios and Nixon was president. Appropriately named "Our Place", was on the corner of 72nd and Halsted.  Our place was a modest, family-style restaurant where we served things like fried chicken and waffles, collard greens, livers and gizzards specials and other things of that sort. This is the place where we spent most of our time, the place where I had my first memories of watching my dad with the produce delivery man which was affectionately called Eddie five-fingers, making sure all he had ordered for the week was there. I was a daddy's girl and loved to watch my dad in the kitchen. I would climb up on a step stool and watch him chop, slice and dice onions and carrots at the speed of light. He was like a machine but would slow down and put his hand over my hand and he would show me how to prep vegetables.
       Every Sunday, me, my dad and mom had to be ready for the after church crowd because the whole congregation would come to eat at our place right after church. My dad was very spiritual and we went to church every Sunday. We went to the  6a.m. service, praised God for all He had done for our family and would hang around and chat with everyone before the 8a.m. service started. We knew everyone in church and everyone knew us because No Greater Love International Church had been our family's church for 3 generations. In fact, my dad Augie met my mom Izzy right on the third pew when he was 15 years old and she was 13. Both tell the story differently but my dad's version of the story is how he would have to sit right next to aunt Earlene for acting up, making fart sounds with his friends Pookie and Shaun when people would sit down. One day aunt Earlene's best friend that she grew up with brought her niece Isabelle Rawlings to church. She was visiting for the summer from Indiana and my dad says he could not stop staring at her and thought to himself, "one day I'm going to marry her" and the rest is history. Pastor Eugene Wigglesworth was our pastor and my dad's best friend. He was an anointed man and was also my dad's spiritual advisor. Dad called him E.W. and before we left church that morning to go to the restaurant to prep for the Sunday after church rush, daddy and pastor went into his chambers to talk. They were in there for a few minutes and then they came out laughing and doing their special handshake while my dad said, "think about what I said" and pastor said "I will man, you just have my usual chicken fried steak dinner ready, I'll see you later after the 10a.m. service, about 12pm". 
        Most of the people that came to our place ordered the same thing and were creatures of habit so my mom could anticipate what everyone would want. Peaches from the neighborhood would come in and sit down and my mom would tell dad in the kitchen, peaches here and dad knew what to get her. My parents called it good customer service and I learned what that meant before I could crawl. My mom Izzy, would teach me the front end of the restaurant business. She did everything from being the waitress to busing tables. The two of them did everything because at that time, we did not have the money to hire anyone else. I was the anyone else and I worked for free. By the time I was eleven, I was my daddy's sous chef.  He said "Since your name is Sookie, you might as well be my sous chef, I have taught you everything you need to know right now". I could not have been more thrilled to work side by side with my dad before and after school. The bus stopped right in front of our place to pick me up and drop me off.

I went to Lawless middle school and was the only kid that went to work right after school, which let out at 3:15. I did my homework then I chopped, sliced and diced onions, celery, carrots and seasoned ten pounds of chicken with my grandma's recipe. Dad was portioning out perch and catfish while mom cleaned tables out front.We had a system that worked for years until......................?

Stay tuned for part two of Our Place!

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