“If these walls could talk, I wonder what secrets they’d tell.”— quote from “Just One Day” by American young adult fiction author, Gayle Forman
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Who hasn’t looked at an old building and thought, “If only these walls could talk?” As quickly as the world changes around us today, a structure doesn’t really have to be that old to have witnessed events worthy of remembrance including some that make for great stories.
While admiring renovations that are changing the looks of Center’s downtown square last week, I began to think of the buildings that I could see by standing in just one spot that have changed since I first traveled the square some 40-plus years ago.
Although I had heard the saying about old buildings talking long before a trip to Europe in the early 80s, my travels provided new meaning. “Old building” in many parts of the world covers a lot more history than it does in the U.S. Many structures in Europe had already qualified for historical markers by the time Paul Revere took a night off from silver smithing to make his famous midnight ride in the infancy of the American colonies.
Old buildings were still on my mind as I left the square to ride over to Pineywoods Seafood for supper. James and Anita moved their restaurant to its current location on Hurst Street some 20 years ago from a small building at Southview Circle. I had always thought the Hurst Street building was built as a Pit Grill in the 1970s. However, someone corrected me saying they thought it was an eatery called Mr. Winkie’s before it was the Pitt Grill.
Whatever the restaurant’s history, looking toward the far end of the building from the front door, the familiar floor tile design was even more noticeable with fewer tables for COVID prevention seating requirements. A flashback of my favorite story about the place made me smile. While bricks and mortar cannot relate the story, it’s one I’ve shared many times.
During its Pitt Grill time, about 1980, a big drug bust went down in Center one afternoon. State agencies arrived with 50-some-odd warrants in hand to round up dealers. The J.P.’s desk was moved to the courthouse lawn to expedite processing of arrestees into the local jail. Shreveport television stations swarmed with mobile news units, and law enforcement vehicles were moving on every street well into the evening setting the community abuzz with the news.
Hardly noticed that very same afternoon was the arrival of a newspaper owner from up in Arkansas to discuss the potential sale of his business over a dinner meeting planned at the Pitt Grill.
Then owner of the East Texas Light newspaper in Center, Jim Chionsini, our Arkansas visitor, and I drove around the square during the peak of the activity headed to the Pitt Grill for dinner marveling at the biggest drug bust in Shelby County history.
The evening’s meeting to discuss business warranted dressing nicely, therefore all three of us were sporting jackets and ties for dinner. And being as how it was a business meeting; we were also toting brief cases and files.
So, three guys completely out of context for the Pitt Grill enter and pause at the door to be seated. The first person to spot us was a young waitress bounding out of the kitchen delicately balancing a tray loaded with water glasses above her head on one hand. She took one look at us, stopped dead in her tracks, threw both hands in the air sending the tray of glasses flying while loudly exclaiming, “It wasn’t me. It’s my boyfriend you’re looking for … and I told him he shouldn’t be sellin’ that stuff. I had nothing to do with it, I promise. I promise. Please don’t arrest me.”
Silence filled the restaurant before Jim, struggling to maintain a straight face, said with a smile, “We just want a table for three please.”
Leaving Pineywoods with my take-home order last week, I was still laughing at the memory trip I had just taken back some 40 years. Maybe walls can’t talk, but if they could, they might tell the story about the night a young waitress was talking—and she was telling it all.
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Aldridge columns are published in these Texas newspapers: The Center Light and Champion, the Mount Pleasant Tribune, the Rosenberg Fort Bend Herald, the Taylor Press, and the Alpine Avalanche.
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