(originally posted 11-18-06)
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Red River aficionados are familiar with our song, Triple Service.
Well, Triple Service is an autobiographical song, and it is (was) a real place.
In 1964, my Uncle Howard (everyone called him Uncle Howard, even people who were unrelated to him; I’m not sure why) bought a place in Lisbon, North Dakota (a tiny town in the southeast corner of the state) that consisted of a bar, a restaurant, and a service station; thus, Triple Service.
Being only one person, he couldn’t simultaneously run all three parts of the business by himself. He didn’t have a wife, so he needed a good cook to run the restaurant part. This is where my mom and my Aunt Barbara came in. My mom and Aunt Barbara were both farm wives and both excellent cooks, so an arrangement was made with them to alternate weeks running the restaurant for my uncle. Logistically, this required some arrangements to be made. Aunt Barbara only had two kids, Paul and Karen, but my mom still had two tiny ones at home (Jay and Lissa), so my older sister was commissioned to take care of the toddlers, while Paul, Karen, and I moved to Lisbon for the school year.
Well, what could be more of an adventure for a kid? Overall, the setup was great. Uncle Howard’s bar had a dance floor and live music, so the three of us would hide in the liquor room at night and watch the goings-on. My cousin Paul, being the adventurous sort, let a frog lose on the dance floor one night. We watched in fascination as it hopped toward the dancers. Needless to say, it did not turn out well. Being the intellectuals that we were, we also slid ice cubes across the dance floor. Not a real bright idea, in hindsight.
In the restaurant area, either Mom or Aunt Barbara was doing the cooking, depending on the week, and Karen and I were commissioned to wait tables on Saturday nights, when it got very, very busy. I found out quickly that waitressing was not one of my talents. “I’ll have a pepperoni pizza.” “What would you like on that?” “Uh, pepperoni.” “Okay”. (slinking away in embarrassment).
Triple Service had its name in big red wooden letters on the roof over the service station area. Karen and I thought we were very clever and cute, climbing up on the roof and suddenly serenading unsuspecting customers who just wanted to fill their tank and get the hell out of there, as they eyed us suspiciously. (“Tie Me Kangaroo Down, Sport” was our big rooftop number.)
Well, it was a great experience……..except……….THE SCHOOL. I was a public school girl, but here I was, suddenly attending a Catholic school, St. Aloysius (and by the way, it should sound like it’s spelled, so I decided I would call it St. Allo-SI-us.) Paul and Karen came from a Catholic school background, so the nuns LOVED them. They HATED, HATED me. Apparently, I was a down-fallen woman at the age of 9, and I was most certainly going to hell. Overall, their attitude didn’t bother me. Cuz if hell was Triple Service, then all was good. Every time one of them would speak to me, they’d say, “Oh, that’s right. You live at THE PLACE.” Well, Uncle Howard had a sign posted in his bar that said, “There’s no place anywhere near this place, just like this place, so this must be THE PLACE.” Every time I read that sign, I’d laugh and think of the St. Allo-SI-us nuns.
Academically, I did well….well enough that they wanted me to skip a grade. Well, I was having none of that. First of all, I knew that I would be going back to my real school eventually, and I wanted to be in the same grade as my friends. Secondly, the stupid school was way behind. No wonder I seemed so smart. I’d already learned all the stuff they were teaching. My mom thought it was some kind of big honor to skip a grade, but I put my foot down about that.
But, aside from SCHOOL, it was a fun time. I remember at night when we’d sit in the dark, watching Lloyd Thaxton on TV. I can’t believe I actually recall the name of that guy. That’s where I remember seeing Roy Orbison with his sunglasses, singing “Oh, Pretty Woman”. I also remember Manfred Mann for some reason. The rest is a blank.
Then there was the MONEY. We made HUGE amounts of money (for kids). See, we had our little trio…..Paul on accordion, Karen on guitar, and me on drum. I don’t know how I got assigned the drum, cuz I could play accordion, too (all three of us took lessons together). So, I stood behind my drum with my brushes, and Karen and I sang our repertoire, which pretty much consisted of “Bye Bye Love”. We made the drunken patrons swoon with that song. We’d set up just outside the bar, where the customers would have to pass as they were leaving. They threw money at us like crazy. We had our black skirts with white fringe, the boots, the western shirts and the hats. Oh, we were a hit, but very jaded. We loved scooping up the money, sticking it in our piggy banks, and heading off to Woolworth’s the next day to buy all manner of shiny objects. (In addition to bars, we also played nursing homes, and we killed there…..probably not a good choice of words.)
Additionally, Karen and I decided that we’d write an illustrated book of music. The premise was, what artists would say when they got old. We spent hours on that. I think I pretty much did the majority of the work, now that I think back. I did all the drawings and the funny sayings. I’m sure she must have contributed something. This was all good practice for my current occupation as a fool. Uncle Howard’s tippling friends all wanted to buy our book – again, money! It wasn’t exactly easy reproducing it by hand, however. I don’t think we came out ahead on that venture.
My dad would come down on some weekends, and he enjoyed himself immensely in Uncle Howard’s bar. But I also remember watching my mom and dad out on the dance floor once in a great while, which was an extremely foreign site to me.
Eventually, the good times ended and we all went back to our real lives. Uncle Howard owned a lot of bars throughout his life, but none of them ever compared to Triple Service.
I thought maybe it’d be a good idea to put my memories down on paper, before they were gone, like Triple Service is gone now. Like Mom, Dad, Uncle Howard, and Aunt Barbara are gone now. I haven’t seen Paul and Karen in years. I wonder if they ever think about Triple Service.
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