It was a Saturday afternoon. My friend and I wanted to go on a girl-date somewhere nice.
We went to an Italian cafe–a favorite of mine–ordered a bottle of wine and some snacks, and sat out in front of the cafe.
This cafe is also a coffee shop and a restaurant. To say that I love this place is an understatement. The very first time I sat in their garden patio I burst into tears, overwhelmed by the sheer amount of beauty surrounding me.
I’ve traveled to a few places in Europe and returned to the U.S. with the conviction that the European aesthetic for beauty is just stronger and classier, in general, than what we’ve got going over here.
But when I sat in this garden of a little Italian cafe, I felt the beauty that I had only known in Europe sweep over me. And I cried.
Fast forward years and years later–this is the place I try to come to once a week in the summer because it’s just so revitalizing to my spirit. I love the coffee and the pastries, but I especially love the beauty.
When I discovered the restaurant’s owner, Tom, had spent time in Germany, it didn’t surprise me. It felt right.
I’ve had several interactions with Tom over the years. In one, I interrupted his work meeting with an employee to tell him just how much I loved this place and how it brought joy to my heart to write here. Later, his employee told me that Tom had been having an awful day, but my comment had turned it around for him.
More than ten years after my first visit, I’m enjoying drinks and food with my friend. We’re sitting in the cafe side because the restaurant is opening and the staff are preparing the back garden for dinner guests.
Tom sees me and my friend sitting at the sidewalk table. We’re happily chatting and eating and enjoying ourselves. But he comes up and asks us why we’re not sitting in the back garden (a nicer environment).
A little flustered, I answer, “Because we’re not eating dinner. And we’ve already bought wine and food. I didn’t think we could take it back there.”
“And how often have you been coming here?” he asks.
I smile. “Years.”
Tom gets this funny look on his face. I think it was an expression of delight.
He sends for a tray and a napkin, then scoops up our items and escorts us like a proud maître d’ to a section of the garden that is not yet open to the public. So, basically, he’s opening it exclusively to us.
He beams as he lays out our food and wine, making us feel like royalty, like queens. Previously, my friend and I were two harried and tired mamas who were retreating for a few hours to laugh and talk.
Tom changed that. Because he loved doing stuff like that.
I have worked on the drafts of multiple novels in this cafe. I’ve received finalist news in a writing contest while sitting at one of the garden cafe tables. This place is tied to my writing career in an emotional and physical way. I’d planned to give Tom a copy of The Counter-Ward when it was published.
I found out recently that Tom passed away in May 2023. Died in his sleep.
His death came two weeks after my friend and I had been treated like royalty at his hand. It was the last time I saw him.
Tom wasn’t a perfect man. I’d overheard him being short-tempered with staff, I knew he could be difficult and demanding to work with. I also knew he loved to create spaces of rich, healing beauty and that he took great joy in serving others and making them feel special.
I’m writing this in Tom’s garden today, sitting a few feet from the spot where I first burst into grateful tears, so many years ago.
I cried again today as I told the barista that I’d only just heard about Tom’s passing. I can’t help feeling the tug of regret that didn’t get the chance to hand him my book, so much of which I wrote here, in this haven he designed.
The restaurant will remain open, its legacy carried on by Tom’s partner and I will continue writing here.
I can’t give Tom my writing as a thank you. But I was able to give him my words, my smile, and my laughter on that fateful afternoon in April when he made that evening with my friend so delightful. It will have to be enough, bittersweet as it is.
Tom, for what you gave to me and to so many others, thank you.
Thank you for bringing more beauty into this hurting, tired world.
I will miss you.
In Memory of Tom Bailiff – 1961-2023