Today I did one of the hardest things I’ve ever faced. It was not coping with the death of my husband (three and a half years ago) and it was not breaking my wrist and keeping the tea room alive (three years ago) and it was not visiting my father last fall and finding out that even in his dementia, his anger could still pierce me. It was not even closing Podunk to ostensibly relocate it (last year).
It was walking away from Podunk, at least in its current iteration, a half-realized installment at my nephew’s new restaurant, Pink Moose, in Manhattan. Podunk, we always joked, appeared out of the mists to those with eyes to see. Like Brigadoon, it receded into memory when we closed, and the unreliable filter that is my brain immediately began to romanticize what it had been. It was special, to us, because it was the hearth where we warmed ourselves, a small family of three, and because over time, we fell in love with so many new members of that family.
But the family of three is gone, and the new family members love us no matter where we are. I have been lying to myself, I realized, about the hard work of running a tea room, or a restaurant. I have neither the patience nor the energy to run a room that is four times the size of our first space. There was no time to look people in the eyes and find out how they liked their tea; there was no time to tickle a baby’s chin; no time to commiserate with an older woman about uneven sidewalks for strolling. Some days, I didn’t have time to say “thank you” to a colleague with a tray full of food, heading over to a table for four. It was all hustle and rush to make the rent, the rest of the overhead, and bake a few scones each morning. All the grace had gone out of tea, at least for me.
However, I am more than my brand. Maybe I’m tired of worshipping at the altar of Podunk, which had a great run in its time, instead of paying attention to the other dreams that have not gone away. I’m also a little bit in free fall, because honestly, there have been better moments financially to make this kind of pivot, away from what I know, and into a glare of headlights that’s preventing me from seeing clearly what’s ahead. (I will dodge the onrush of traffic, to just smash and kill that metaphor, before it smashes me.) Needless to say, I’m entertaining all offers right now, even as it looks as if I’ll need some time to rewrite the last pages of the Podunk memoir.
I don’t do this lightly. I don’t even know if I’m doing this permanently. But I want to be honest with anyone looking on; it was wrong to think I could make “another” Podunk just by wishing it so and working hard. There’s a new kind of hustle I’ll be involved in tomorrow, and it will be filed under “what’s next.” For tonight, though, I’ve a little peace that was missing these last weeks. I’m no longer shoehorning an old daydream into a new space. There are clouds of flour and sugar behind me, and someone, tomorrow morning, has all kinds of scones and cookies to prep and push into the oven, and those recipes are sound, so I know the results will be tasty. But I am not the baker, the hostess, the dishwasher, marketing department, and SEO expert any more. It’s been lovely, and I’ll see you all soon, but the answer to that often uttered question, “When are you opening another Podunk?” is unexpectedly exhilarating.