The Rowley Diner is actually the Agawam Diner, which is in Rowley. It was originally in Ipswich (which used to be called Agawam), then moved to another part of Ipswich, then transported permanently somewhere unremembered before the current iteration of the Rowley Diner became famous as the Rowley Diner, even though the name on top clearly states it is the Agawam Diner, from Ipswich. Got that? No matter where it is or what it’s called, it will always be the Rowley Diner.
What is even more confusing is it is the hot place to go. With maybe a dozen tiny booths lining the windowed edges and a like number of equally tiny padded stools at the counter, the place normally has a line out the door and snaked around the side. The place is clean in a relative sense. It is, after all, a diner. The waitresses and cook are pleasant and local, and know everyone within a ten-mile radius. The last time I ate there, which was the first time in a decade, was when I was visiting home to attend the funeral of my 102+ year old grandmother, whom we called Nana. Nana is a story unto herself and I had flown to Massachusetts from Brussels, as in Belgium, to pay my last respects.
The day I returned to Europe I ate breakfast with my father at the Rowley Diner. On the way we picked up my Uncle Raymond, who I hadn’t seen in at least 30 years. We arrive at the diner and were greeted as old friends by the two waitresses (one of whom later tells my mother that she thought I was handsome).
Soon after sitting down we are joined by another Uncle and an Aunt who just happened to be down from New Hampshire and had a craving for breakfast at the diner. All three are siblings of my Dad, who as one of 12 kids has a lot of brothers and sisters so running into them isn’t as unlikely as you might think. I hadn’t seen either of these two, David and Judy, since I was about 5 years old. What a reunion!
I’ve always marveled at my Dad’s sense of humor. Suddenly I’m sitting at a table in a greasy spoon with what feels like a convention of septa- and octogenarian stand-up comics. The biting humor and sly retorts are flying left and right, interrupted only for all three of the guys to flirt with the waitress, who at an age somewhere between 40 and 60 is the hot young babe in the room.
The only thing missing was teeth. My Dad has a full set of upper and lower dentures, and given the deceptively full palate of one of my Uncles I suspect he did too. My other Uncle apparently is not one for pretense, as his one tooth stood out proudly; a huge incisor more likely to cause self-injury than to be useful as an instrument of eating. I couldn’t tell if my Aunt had any teeth as she sat on the other side of my Dad facing away from me the whole time. I was also trying not to stare.
The laughing continued throughout the meal of piled high pancakes (French toast for me) and we parted to head in our opposite directions. It turned out to be the last time I would see my Uncle Raymond as he died a year later. Ironically, my Dad and David are the two oldest of the twelve siblings, and the only two of the seven brothers who survive as they each approach their 9th decade.
That morning in the Rowley Diner was an incredible experience I will cherish forever.
David J. Kent is the author of Lincoln: The Man Who Saved America, in Barnes and Noble stores late summer 2017. His previous books include Tesla: The Wizard of Electricity (2013) and Edison: The Inventor of the Modern World (2016) and two e-books: Nikola Tesla: Renewable Energy Ahead of Its Time and Abraham Lincoln and Nikola Tesla: Connected by Fate.