We met the man on the left pouring the wine in this classic 1980’s photo at the Holiday Inn in Mansfield, MA. George Holiday is not his real name, but it should be given his movie star older man handsomeness and charm. My friend and English teacher colleague, Jen Whitcher, and I were at the New England Association for Teachers of English conference. We knew we would adore keynote poet and speaker Taylor Mali again (we are groupies having seen him perform three times now), but we did not imagine our love for poetry could be upended by our new friend George, an American/French Canadian/Syrian waiter/server/genie in a bottle who showed us this photo on his phone.
We had been in a long day of workshops, all of them good, but all of them also made us very tired. Instead of attending the social hour, Jen and I made our way to George’s Bistro (not it’s real name but it should be) looking for a snack. There we found George, who openly shared within minutes that he has been manning that restaurant and bar for the last 37 years. That’s right– 37 years! It didn’t seem possible he could be that old so to prove his point he busted out his phone to show us photos of what the bar looked like prior to its recent renovation, along with the above photo and another one of him as a younger self.
Granted, at the time, we were the only people in the restaurant so George didn’t mind sharing some of his story with us. We had planned on a glass of wine and a snack and then suddenly George opened the world of hotel-restaurant survival explaining a place like this one survives on conferences like ours. Sadly, we informed him that the English teaching crowd is not generally the kind who closes restaurants and bars down. But he was disarming, charming, and we wanted to learn more about the man who made us guess his nationality. But that guy on the cover brochure for the hotel back in 1980? He could have been model. I stand corrected– he actually was the model for the hotel brochure. Look at the focus on his face– the steady hand pouring the fancy wine for the lovely blond women. This could have been taken directly from the “Love Boat” we agreed. He was gentlemanly, gracious, a perfect host asking if we needed anything at just the right moments, never in the middle of serious conversation. He did not rush our conversation; rather, he just refilled our snacks and asked about beverages without pressure or tension.
The “we” had moved beyond Jen and me. Side note about making friends: I am good at making people become my friend. I have vivid memories of awkwardly telling people over the years that I thought we should be friends. It gets easier as adults in some ways as shown by Kristen, exhibit A, whose friends Eden and Liz (later they become exhibits B and C), all English teachers, had gone to see the “To Kill a Mockingbird” performance post social hour. She was sitting alone, yet she had the look of her that screamed, “I’m an English teacher too– we have a lot in common” and we did. George filled up our snack cups, and we thought aloud about getting dinner. This was not to be our big dinner out. We were going to take full advantage of being away without our children to find a great place away from the hotel for dinner.
Yet, George’s Bistro had all we needed, so we stayed. First, each other. Then George. Then Kristen. Then Eden and Liz joined us– two public school teachers combined with three private school teachers all about the same age. George convinced us to stay there for dinner without even saying a word, truly a genius at facilitating how we needed our night away to go. He now worked hard to set us up at a perfect table where we could enjoy our fish tacos and burgers and quesadilla along with our continued conversation that crossed curriculum, family life, college (my cousin Mimi had gone to Swarthmore with Kristen), and writing/teaching dreams.
We were there for hours, and it was some of the best professional development of our lives. We hugged our goodbyes hoping to see these ladies again in our mountains or maybe another year at this same conference. George brought us together– he worked the magic of 37 years of understanding people and customer service and sincerity. He somehow knew we had to know each other and we returned home better teachers, mothers and writers of life having met one another. We left at the reasonable hour of 9 PM because, well, we are teachers and moms of young kids. My one regret: If only we had stayed a little longer, Taylor Mali, our favorite poet arrived and hung out with some other English teachers who could stay up later than we could. But we listened to him read his poetry the next day, and it was enough. It was more than enough. Between a few inspiring workshops, George’s Bistro, the English teaching ladies we befriended, and some Taylor Mali poetry– I have no doubt I’ll make it through the year. And if you haven’t ever been to the Holiday Inn in Mansfield/Foxboro, we strongly suggest you look up George at his Bistro upon arrival. Tell him the English teachers sent you. He will know because he is George.