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The Gingham Tablecloth at Nick’s

Nicks's Spaghetti House on Commercial Drive.

I’ve been thinking of how a sensory experience — an image, a taste, a sound — can trigger a flood of memories, long forgotten, that transport you instantly to another time or place.

How Marcel Proust tastes a madeleine cookie at the beginning of Remembrance of Things Past. He is overtaken with a feeling, “an exquisite pleasure … something isolated, detached, with no suggestion of its origin.”

And at once the vicissitudes of life had become indifferent to me, its disasters innocuous, its brevity illusory — this new sensation having had on me the effect which love has of filling me with a precious essence; or rather this essence was not in me it was me. …

Marcel Proust, Remembrance of Things Past

For me, recently, it was a magazine picture of a red and white gingham table cloth that triggered my memory. You’d see them all the time in old-school Italian restaurants. But the picture instantly transported me to Nick’s Spaghetti House on Commercial Drive, near Hastings Street in Vancouver. It must have been 1978. I was 23.

A difficult conversation

Nick's Spaghetti House inside

Two of us, having a difficult conversation. A plate of dried “Italian Bread” on the table cloth, a saucer of cold butter pats. A wooden salad bowl with pale iceberg lettuce and sliced tomato rounds.

The spaghetti hadn’t yet been delivered. Our conversation had wandered into a sore point and a heaviness had moved between us.

We were young and we each had to say our piece. And I blurted out, “Would you just shut up a minute and let me finish?”

It was muffled in the boisterous Friday night restaurant. The sound of plates and cutlery, laughter, waiters opining about the house red vs. the Tintoretto Rosso.

But silence hung in the air at our table after I uttered the sentence. Silence and a tear that rolled down my friend’s cheek. And I was shocked at my words and mortified at the effect they had on her.

“Can I take that back?” I said to myself.

“Can I take that back?” I said to myself. But the hurt was done, and I realized I had not been listening to her, not really. And that whatever she was trying to say to me was now broken.

I tried to back track, to say I was sorry, but even I could hear the flatness in the sound of my words. And I just stopped.

A tear fell off her chin onto the table cloth. She would not look at me. And I put my hand in the middle of the table to see if she might take it.

And after a long moment, she did. She placed her hand lightly in mine.

The spaghetti arrived. The waitress brought us each a glass of the house red, though I don’t remember ordering it. Old Style Pilsner was my dinner drink at Nick’s.

The conversation was slow to recover. There was much more to say, but our food was on the table. It was always honest and delicious, there. And we found some smiles and the courage to talk about what had happened at the dinner table … the table with the gingham table cloth.

The woman in this story was my first wife, the mother of my two kids, now in their 30s. She passed away last month after a bout of cancer. Lots of memories coming up for all of us, but it was a surprise to find myself back at Nick’s Spaghetti House, which is now closed.


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5 thoughts on “The Gingham Tablecloth at Nick’s

  1. I enjoy your writings, it captivates me every time. Sad to here of your first wife battle with cancer. My son, who is 41, is fighting now.

  2. Loved the Nick’s story. Thank you for sharing and your humility. We to are renembering this week..Roy’s mother passed last Thursday.

    1. You got my attention with that story. It must have been difficult to write it but you wrote it with such eloquence. Heartfelt condolences to you and the family.

  3. Sorry for the loss of your first wife.

    1. Thanks Lenda!

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