Thursday, February 23, 2012

Joey's Mom: The Southern

Joey's mom spent a lot of time at a restaurant/club called The Southern. It started out as a small barbecue stand and grew significantly over the years. She worked there before her marriage to Jerry and after they were married, they socialized there quite often. Below, she tells us more about the club.

It all began with Hank, a boyfriend from my first summer in Grand Rapids after high school graduation in 1946. During that carefree summer of first liberation from parents and home, Hank and I spent many of our nonworking hours with Dotty, my housemate, and her date Chet, my brother. At some point a light went on and Hank said, "You girls should be working at the Southern!" He told us it was a nightclub in a southern suburb, a decent place with good clientele where waitresses could do well. Both his parents had worked there for years. His father, Dave, was the head chef, and his mother, Marian, was maitre d'. He said he could ask them to set up an interview for us with the owners.

About a week later Dotty and I sat at a shiny black-topped table in a booth near the kitchen of the Southern. Over coffee with the owners, Esther and Herb Kaiser, we talked about possible jobs there. It was not a place of casual employment, they stressed. Some of their waitresses had been with them for years. They asked about our lives and backgrounds, and told us we'd be entering a family into which we should fit in. Pay would be $2.50 per night, plus tips. It was a given that we would work Friday and Saturday nights. Other nights, or all day Sunday, could be scheduled according to our preference and their need.

Soon we were measured for uniforms -- definitely not Playboy-bunny style -- and we gave notice at our jobs. One thing we liked about the new job was that we were now within walking distance of work. Another benefit was the good dinner prepared by chef Dave and served to us when we reported to work at 5. This was a real plus since our kitchen at Miss Daame's, our Dutch schoolteacher-landlady, was minimal. The club closed at 1 a.m., and we could expect to walk out by 2.

The Southern "family" included band members Jerry Van Huizen on piano and John Degi on drums. Jessie, the vocalist, was a younger sister of owner Esther Kaiser. The customers loved her and called her away from her hostessing job to come sing.

Jerry Van Huizen was also a talented vocalist, and his Dutch name played very well in a city heavily populated by Dutch immigrants.

Before marriage, dancing is what Jerry did. When I first saw "Saturday Night Fever," I thought, "I've lived with this family!" Jerry WAS John Travolta, living to dance, and doing it to perfection. While we were engaged and I was working Saturday nights, he continued to go out to dance, and it seemed perfectly natural! Hard to believe that he would want to marry me, the non-dancer. He had to teach me from scratch. He would take me on quiet weeknights to a small place with a dance floor and a juke-box, and hold me closely to help me feel the music and his movements. It was slow going but he was patience personified, and eventually I began to get it. In fact, a year or so into our marriage I made him promise that any night we went to a restaurant, a party, or the theater, that we would end with a dance somewhere! I used my sister-in-law Dotty's birth certificate to obtain a liquor card so that we could go where we pleased. But here we are in August 1950, 3 years into our marriage, and I'm a legitimate 21, grown-up, married, and able to dance.

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  1. Wonderful. That story reminds me of something out of an old movie. So romantic how he taught her to dance. And wow, I want to go back and work at The Southern!

  2. so lovely. i really love this series. and i agree, very romantic that he would take her out to teach her to dance.


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