It was such a normal summer day, one with sunshine and birds and baseball. There was no indication when we got up on the morning of Saturday, June 24, 2017, that we would go to bed that night a changed populace.
Bad things should not happen at Ron’s Roost in Bridgetown: This is a land of mashed potatoes, sauerkraut on rye, and the only cole slaw I will put in my mouth. It’s safe place. It’s a place you go with your family after Mass, not an establishment you will evermore hide your face from as you whizz past en route to Zip Dip, whispering, “That’s…that’s where I was when…. when…it happened.”
There was little indication of the horror unfolding as I walked through the doors of the rooster-headed restaurant with six members of my family. But as the overflow crowd was strangely muted, I cast a casual glance up at one of the many televisions. The Reds were playing the Nationals.
“Seven,” I told the hostess. She looked up with a somber expression. Over her shoulder, I noticed a waitress sobbing into a dish towel, and a busboy on his cell phone, telling whoever it was that he loved her no matter what. Only the eerie sound of the bock-bock-bock-CHICKEN plastic egg machine was audible.
“Whatever is the matter? Is everything okay?”
“It’s—it’s good that you’re here…together…with family…” Her voice trailed off and I followed her gaze to the TV across the room. I could barely make out the score of the game in the lower left hand corner. One was double digits. Across the room, a baby wailed into the deathly quiet.
As the hostess led us to our table, I remembered to turn on my phone, silenced during Mass. There was an avalanche of notifications and messages: “Are you all right?” “Call me.” “Let me know if you’re okay.” “Just checking in—u OK?”
Also rolling across the tiny screen was the Reds score. No…no, this couldn’t be right.
Then I looked at the TV, now directly above my head, and I knew.
We became one another’s rock, that evening at Ron’s Roost. Bonded by chance and emergency, we huddled together over the mock turtle soup and bolstered one another’s will to live. My mother was tended to first, and offered shelter for the night. A kind passerby suggested that we shield the children from such horror, and someone offered to turn on cartoons instead.
“No,” said their father. “Someday they will be men. Let them see life as it is.”
The seven-year-old pressed against me. “Aunt Beth, I’m scared.”
I put an arm around him. “It’s times like this when we must trust in the Lord, dear.”
His big brother was brave. “I’m not afraid. I’m going to pitch for the Reds someday, and we will go over .500!”
A plate of metts and brats lay uneaten on the table next to us as an elderly couple stared into space. “When will it end,” he whispered. “When?”
My godson stoically raised his chin and faced the facts of it. He is the closest to leaving for college, mixing with outsiders–his childhood stands to be affected the most. “Homer Bailey’s ERA is now 43.2.”
I gazed at the harrowed faces around me and reached for my husband’s hand. He nodded silently from across his quarter chicken dinner and sauerbraten. Although not born to this land, he would stand by my side.
My people, be kind to one another. Gently but bravely we go forth into the rebuild.
My thanks to the owners and staff of Ron’s Roost for their heroic hospitality during this difficult time.
Proud aunt Mary Beth Ellis is a freelance writer and college teacher who lives in Cincinnati, OH. Her home site, BlondeChampagne.com, has existed in at least some form since 2003, and Mary Beth has been a regular columnist with one publication or another from the age of 16. Her first book, Drink to the Lasses, was published in 2006. She currently teaches college, runs personal wine tastings, gives literary readings, and stares into the middle distance.