As our family recently traveled in New Zealand, we stopped at "Flossies Coffee" on our way from Okarito to Arthurs Pass. I read the name in a backpackers blog as a good spot to stop for a snack on the long drive. We couldn't find the restaurant so I called a number from a defunct facebook page. Marcus, the owner, answered and said he didn't think any bugger was going to come by on the rainy afternoon so he pulled his sign in to enjoy an afternoon beer but we were welcome to stop in for pie. "It's very casual if that's alright."
We pulled up to a house that looked like an overgrown junk yard. A cat missing its tail patrolled the sidewalk in front. We walked through an overgrown, junk-heaped yard and stepped into Marcus' cluttered, dirty front porch where his friend was well on his way with happy hour. The "cafe" was simply Marcus' home that looked pretty run-down, smelling of must and stale ashtrays. Marcus was missing some teeth, had a finger bent at an unnatural angle appearing to be broken and never reset. I could tell the kids were on edge (and concerned about the cat's tail), never having seen a home or "cafe" like this before. Carter tried to engage Marcus' friend in conversation while Marcus got our pie, asking him where he was from. The man raised droopy eyes and looked at us with vague irritation saying, "I live here", and then let his eyes droop back down. We were all thinking, let's get the pie and get out of here.
Just then, Marcus brought out two slices of gorgeously pastry-latticed, apple pie. The apples were sliced in perfect thin slices and clearly done with skill and a mandoline (or probably just skill). The pie could've been on the cover of Southern Living and reminded me very warmly of my Aunt Barbara's pies. She sold amazing pies for a living in Berkeley's Peoples Park for years in the 1970s and 80s when she was struggling for money. I imagine her home at that time may have looked like Marcus's cafe - friends, strangers, backpackers coming and going, all welcome and all fed the most amazing pie and food they will have in this lifetime. Aunt Barbara was and always will be a free-spirited hippy. Her "garden" is not manicured but grows wild and imperfect. She's also not so "neat" about cleaning. She finds it more fun to read and write poetry. I think of her things as "collectibles" not "junk" but I started to wonder what the difference was. Aunt Barbara's blackberry jam is drinkable and the source of family fights about who deserves the last of the season's jars. She is happiest when her house is full of good smells coming from the kitchen while her living room is filled with friends and their guitars, poets, artists, and newly welcomed visitors. The secret ingredient in her pie crust is high-quality lard.
I felt my lens on Marcus soften. I realized my first sweep of Marcus and his home /cafe had a tight judgement of what is an acceptable and unacceptable setting for my family. I felt some shame and embarrassment that my first estimation was condescending as it was now replaced by a genuine warmth that naturally comes when you see a person. Especially if they remind you of someone else dear to you.
I no longer wanted to high-tail it out of there but wanted to stay and learn more about this man and his life. I saw that his front yard wasn't a "junk yard" but was full of fruit trees he proudly showed us, lemon trees, lime trees, an abundant pear tree and more I'm sure we didn't see. A lot like my Aunt Barbara's wild garden. My sense is he lets his garden grown by its own will, not through studied cultivation or exact amounts of fertilizer. It appears to be as abundant as it is imperfect. We talked awhile about his pears and how he prepares them for pies. He also makes a ginger, chile, pear sauce that he puts in beer bottles that "really goes with anything". He let me come back to his kitchen to take a picture of the pie. I wanted to put on an apron and stand next to him in his kitchen where his french press was still warm. It really made me miss my Aunt Barbara. She would've seen Marcus' twinkling eyes right away, wondered about his heart, talked about gardens and life.
Before we left, Marcus asked, "How did you even find me?" I really couldn't remember the backpackers forum where I saw it mentioned. I'm not even sure he calls it "Flossies Cafe". There's no website for his cafe but someone he doesn't know did a facebook page for him once. Marcus has never seen the page because, well, "technology" he said with a hand wave.
We left and I almost hugged the man. Instead, I accepted the lemons he happily gave us from his lemon tree to enjoy. He seemed sad to see us go and I was sad to leave.