Holts Café brings back warm memories of time spent with mom
We used to tease my mom that when she died, the inscription on her gravestone would read: “I’ve got a turkey in the freezer.” Mom was always keen to host a family supper, and she laid on multi-dish Sunday meals for a dozen people until she was 75.
The turkey joke was a safe one, and she would chuckle at its truth. But the inscription that I know would best describe her heart’s desire would be this one: “I’m having lunch with my daughter.”
I thought of the turkey gravestone joke and the more tender truth the other day when mom and I went for lunch at Holts Café, which is closing Dec. 28, a couple of weeks before the entire store shutters after 79 years in Edmonton.
Holts was a favourite spot for lunch on a Saturday for us. It was simple and elegant, with décor that changed, but only a little, with the seasons. The food was just what ladies like — we’d have a Cobb salad with good bacon, or perhaps a tartine. We always treated ourselves to a glass of Chardonnay. We always split a dessert.
Those occasions, while highlights for both of us, were in my mother’s mind, all too rare. I took her for lunch on her birthday, or Mother’s Day. Somewhere nice, like Holts, or the Café De Ville, back when it was on 124 Street and 102 Avenue.
But birthdays and Mother’s Days were not enough for my mom, who longed to repeat the frequent shopping and lunch excursions she had enjoyed with her mother, my grandmother. Those lunches often happened on a winter Saturday, when my dad was home to watch us three kids. It was an event — my grandmother wore a grey lambskin coat with a mink collar, stockings and heels.
My grandfather would run them downtown in his giant blue, cigarette-smoke filled Pontiac Parisienne, where they would spend the day at Walkrite, Johnstone Walker, and The Bay. They would break for crumpets and tea at the King Edward Hotel. My mom would usually bring a treat home for my brothers and me, perhaps butter tarts in a cardboard box tied with string.
After her mother died, my mom ramped up her efforts to engage me in the lunch ritual. But life was different for me than it had been for her. Both she and my grandmother were homemakers. Two generations on, I was a single mother with two little boys and a busy career. Weekends, I wanted, needed, to be with my boys.
“But mom …” I would say when she broached the subject of lunch outside of Mother’s Day.
“I know, I know,” she would reply, wearily, before I finished the sentence “… you work full-time.”
When I was in my thirties and forties, I talked to my mother virtually every day, but we still had lots to say when we went for lunch. She would tell me about trips she had taken with my dad to plumbing and heating conventions, weekends of schmoozing at the Jasper Park Lodge. My mother loved those.
I would have future plans to discuss over lunch, usually involving wallpaper. Occasionally, my mother would choose to counsel me about my clothing or makeup over lunch — you can imagine how that went. But we’d recover, as mothers and daughters do. I have an image of her at these lunches, her perfect white teeth, her red lipstick and silver hair. She was beautiful, my mom.
A few years ago, lunches started to change. I remember one at which she became angry about something that happened 25 years earlier. It took all of my daughterly poise to keep lunch on an even keel. I now see that mom’s behaviour was an early sign of encroaching dementia.
Two years ago, I treated her to high tea at Café Linnea for Mother’s Day. We had fresh scones and clotted cream, and Madeleines. My mom didn’t talk much. I avoided acknowledging that.
“We used to have such good conversations,” she finally said, wistfully.
“It’s just nice to be together,” I said, and held her hand.
For Mother’s Day this year, we went to Culina Muttart. We ran into a friend of mine from high school, who had spent a lot of time at our house when we were teenagers. My mom knew her well.
“Mrs. Faulder!” exclaimed Lori happily.
I could see mom wanted to talk with her. Knowing she had but a few words to spare, Mom boiled it down.
“I love you,” she said.
Lunch was delicious, but we didn’t have any wine. Mom ate the whipped cream from my sticky toffee pudding. We stared out the window beside our table. It was raining hard. I talked about that. On the way back to the car, I gathered mom tightly under my wing, the umbrella brushing our heads.
This week, even though it wasn’t even Mother’s Day, we went to Holts one last time. I had the tartine. Mom had the Cobb salad. My dad and my husband came, too. They talked about the Oilers. I piped up with some stories about my boys, now 33 and 31 and living in Vancouver and Calgary.
As we paid the bill, I looked around the café to see if I could pick out the other mothers and daughters. That used to be a game with us, seeing if we could recognize them. Some duos actually have the same hairstyle. That used to make us giggle.
Other times, you can see a mother and daughter in the way they talk to each other. Or in the ease of their quiet moments. We walked out of the restaurant and sat on a bench just outside the door to get ready to face the cold.
Mom handed me her gloves. I put them on her hands. It was time to go.