Music has been such a big part of my life, that it feels like music HAS been my life. Other than my mother, my brother, and my friend, Laura Foote, music is the companion that has been alongside me for this entire 56-year ride. Music was my earliest confidant. From the “Meet the Monkees” album someone gave me when I was 5 years old to the iTunes playlist I created last week. Music has always been there to excite, console, comfort, energize, and advise.
Some people judge towns by their population. Others judge them by amenities such as parks and playgrounds. Many consider school systems and tax policies.
I judge towns by the quality and longevity of their small independent diners and cafes.
For 94 years, the Coney Island Café has defined my hometown of Hattiesburg, Mississippi.
Arthur Fokakis, the original owner, emigrated here from Greece in 1923.
He got his start by selling fruit from a pushcart parked under a large shade tree near the railroad tracks on Main Street.
The older I get, the more I appreciate past spaces. Rooms have a certain and specific “energy” to me. It’s a feeling I get when I walk into a space in which I have spent a lot of time. Recently, I visited my childhood home. My brother and I walked around the house that our mother built the year after our father passed away. Each room felt as if they carried memories and energies that were decades old. There were certainly meaningful remembrances that were brought to the surface during that visit.
The three biggest inanimate loves of my life have been – movies, music and football. The longest lasting of those relationships has been music.
I was given my first 45 single when I was 5 years old. It was Herman’s Hermits’ “Mrs. Brown You’ve Got A Lovely Daughter.” My second 45 was the Beatles “I Want To Hold Your Hand.” I wish those two were reversed because I would love for my first musical purchase to have been the Beatles. But to a preschooler in 1965, there was no difference between the Beatles and Herman’s Hermits.
In 21st century life, there aren’t too many settings in which punch is served. Today, punch is strictly a church party offering. Years ago my grandmother and her friends owned elaborately decorated sterling silver and crystal punch bowls. They were brought out at bridge clubs and sewing circles and loaned out for weddings and receptions.
Those days have gone. Most punch bowls in use today are made of glass and come from the party rental store.
There are two types of families during the holiday season: those who eat dinner on Christmas Eve and those who save the big meal for Christmas day. I come from a Christmas Eve dining tradition. My wife and her family ate the holiday meal on the following day. Marriage is about compromise, give and take, share and share alike, in sickness and in health, till death do us part (read: battle it out and argue early on until one of you gets his or her way). Ten years ago, I won the when-do-we-eat-the-big-Christmas-meal discussion.
It was a time before Ebay, Amazon and Etsy. Wal-Mart was holed up in northwest Arkansas and Target was just an insect repellent. Musicians sang without the help of auto-tune and electronic synthesizers had yet to replace the Hammond B3 organ. James Bond and Maxwell Smart were the only people capable of communicating on handheld devices. Hi-fi stereos and televisions were oversized pieces of living room furniture. We lived with rabbit ears and static, and all of the local radio stations signed off at midnight.
Most of the restaurant concepts I have been a part of have been collaborations between myself and, at least, one other person. Whether it was with menu, atmosphere, concept or culture, I have always found that working with someone else towards a common goal is enjoyable, rewarding – both personally and professionally – and successful.
Nowhere has collaboration – in my personal life and professional career – been more gratifying, fulfilling and outright fun than the working partnership with my best friend and renowned watercolorist, Wyatt Waters.
Recently I wrote a column on restaurants that had long since closed in this area. I received a lot of email and social media traffic that focused on those restaurants and the memories they stirred in local residents.
While discussing that column during the few past weeks the conversation often turned to various businesses that used to operate in Hattiesburg, but have long-since closed. Many of those businesses defined my youth.
On July 5, we lost a Hattiesburg legend, Nick Kolinsky.
There are a lot of people who could tell Nick’s life story better than I, but there is probably no one – outside of his immediate family – who respects the lifetime achievements of Nick Kolinsky more than me.
I am a restaurant guy. I am a bar guy. Nick Kolinsky was one of the forefathers of those businesses in this town, and this passing leaves a huge void in our profession.
Nick Kolinsky was a South Mississippi Renaissance Man before South Mississippi Renaissance Men were cool.