PEACE AT THE HART BEAT DINER
It is funny how memories get stored into one’s brain and show up, seemingly without provocation.
We moved to Winnipeg one February. This was only the beginning of a four-month period that didn’t go well. By the time things thawed and bloomed, we had decided to leave Winnipeg, having found it to not be a place where we felt comfortable for reasons I won't bother with here.
But painting the picture totally dark misses some very bright spots. One Sunday Spring morning, after we had decided that we would be moving in the summer and after I resigned my position, we found a little café on the “non-smoking restaurants” list that saved us from being smoked out when we went out for dinner.
It was called the Hart Beat Diner and was ran by Hart. Ironically, we came on it’s last day of business.
Hart was a hippy, no doubt about it.
His menu was a mixture of diner greasy spoon fare and organic granola vegan, because balance was more important than restricting your diet. So one day you could enjoy ham and eggs and the next yogurt. In between the balanced fare was philosophy. The menu was as thick as a book and more enjoyable than most. Like the fare, the philosophy mixed new age with Christian with classical and eastern.
Hart was eclectic.
It didn’t take long to realize that Hart was sad about closing the business. On the surface, he spoke of buying a building around the Osbourne Village where people would understand him better and the new business would thrive. But one look in his eyes told you that he wasn’t confident that could happen and something really important to him was being lost that day.
Hart’s daughter helped him cook and she was more open about her sadness.
The air was bittersweet and I’m crying even now as I remember it.
But the sweetness was there. We stayed for hours, watching Hart and his regulars discuss the good old days and making promises no one knew if they could keep or not. We all promised that if Hart opened the Osbourne Village place, we’d be there. We'd give him our business.
As part of the celebration, Hart played a bootleg tape he had of Burton Cummings. The former lead singer of the Guess Who (probably Winnipeg’s most famous band), had invited a few friends to his basement a few years back to listen to Cummings play guitar and sing old rock-n-roll favourites. Hart had been there and was the proud owner of one of the 20 or so copies of the tape made that day. On this final day of his diner, Hart was talking about Cummings and music and life, wishing not only for the days when his business thrived, but also the days of his youth. He was wishing for the 60s and it was a pure wish for a time that never was quite as good as the memory of it.
We didn’t really belong there that day. We had never been to the diner before and we would never go to the new village business if it ever opened up. But Hart treated us as if we were one of the gang. It was the only time I felt like I was part of anything special in Winnipeg. I gave him a hug as I left and I still cry for him as I did that day. I have no idea whatever became of him or his daughter.
Like Hart’s memory of the 60s, my memory of that last day at the Hart Beat is a special memory that is probably better than the experience itself.
It was peace.
I can’t define peace, but I know it exists because I caught a glimpse of it that day.
Today I wish for more of those bittersweet Sunday mornings with Burton Cummings singing to friends in his basement and people being balanced by ham and yogurt and philosophy and the best laid plans.
PEACE AT THE HART BEAT DINER