Where is your “go-to” place? Do you have a special restaurant that you can go to for entertainment and peace at the same time? DeCarlos Restaurant has served the people of Spring Valley for 40 years. It is a charming dark and cozy place that has a staff of people who understand good service. It is easily accessible for those who have difficulty walking. There are no steps to the door to interfere with entry. There seems to be someone in a wheelchair at nearly every table. It is a marvelous place to take your grandmother to dinner. And conversely, it is a nice way for the grandmother to entertain her younger relatives. Whiskey and wine flow freely, and the food is delicious. There is an old-fashioned ambiance that is reassuring to people who have been around for nearly a century. Nothing jarring, nothing glaring, nothing noisy or abrasive, just comfortable chairs and roomy booths and low lighting. There is a great bar in the center of the room and a cheerful bartender.
When my mother was alive we developed a pattern of going there every Monday night. We had dinner with Mary, a friend, and contemporary of Mother’s who also enjoyed that place. Often we met another lady, Bette, who was 5 years younger and very spry, driving herself. When my mother died it was a blow to our group to be without her. But I have continued the evenings with the two ladies I mentioned above plus occasional other guests. People may not realize it is an honor to be on our list. We pick carefully and choose only those whom we believe will fit in without difficulty. It is fun for all of us and we look forward to it.
We have a pattern and it is part of the plan. We have two drinks and then we order dinner. We barely ever ask to see a menu because we have it memorized. It is an Italian restaurant and the food tends that way. There are wonderful things like a whole cooked, chilled artichoke with a mayonnaise type sauce or mussels in a big bowl with pasta. The veal scallopini is delicious as one would expect. But so is the chicken scallopini! What a great idea. The waiter will tell us what the specials are just in case. My favorite waiter is named Israel. He brings my drink, a dirty, vodka martini with extra olives almost the moment I sit down. No waiting. He knows each of our preferences and jumps to serve us with care and affection. We love seeing him. He treats us like royalty and we appreciate him, more than we can say.
Lucy DeCarlo the owner, has become a friend. She is a charming sportswoman who has a good head for business and the energy of a teenager. Sadly, due to new development, the restaurant is going to move to a new location, soon. In some ways, it will be a huge improvement, and in others very sad. The new place will be in the apartment complex called The Westchester. It is one of the loveliest places to live in Washington DC if one wishes to live in an apartment. It is old but luxurious. It does not have a restaurant at the moment so the people there are filled with anticipation. It will be very convenient for them. I am not sure how convenient it will be for us. But we will learn how to deal with parking and navigating our way into the building. I hope there are no steps. I don’t actually know what the layout will be or even where the restaurant will be located in the buildings. There is more than one building there.
Life is full of change and we must change with it. At least DeCarlos has been pretty laid back during the Covid scare though the waiters are still wearing masks. They have remained open most of the time of the ‘health scare’, though they are no longer serving lunch. They have a large outdoor area where they were serving meals for a time. We eat indoors though. This place has been such a fixture in my life for the last 7 or 8 years, it is going to be a shock when they relocate.
For me during the time I stayed with my mother, those evenings there were a relief from trying to entertain her in her later years. From the time she was 95 until she died at almost 102, she relied on me and others to make sure she had a social life. Up until then, she did fine on her own. But the number of her regular friends who died increased around that time. It became a struggle to find fun and interesting people who were mobile enough to go out with us. My job was to make sure she had some “action” during every week. In fact, I had it down to a system. We went out twice a week to eat.
Every Monday we went to DeCarlos and another night to one of our clubs. At least twice a week we had friends eat with us at the house. Mother had a cook named Maria who worked for her for 42 years. Fabulous meals came out of that kitchen. So we had to show her cooking off to our friends. Finding people got harder and harder, as they dropped out of this life. In the end, most of our guests were children of mother’s friends or even grandchildren of her friends. It is lucky that I have 5 children of my own who all adored her and visited regularly. Their children were also very fond of their great-grandmother and enjoyed coming over. It pays to be a cheerful, friendly, loving person. As you age, you need to take care that people enjoy being around you. My mother had that skill.
Mother died in November of 2019 before Covid raised its ugly head. It took a while before I moved back to Charlottesville VA and during that time I continued the Monday night dinners at DeCarlos with these friends who are now MY friends. For a while, after I moved to Charlottesville, I came up only about once a month. However, since this past June, I have tried to make it weekly because none of us is getting any younger. I want to enjoy my friends while I can. As long as the restaurant is in its present location it is very easy for me to go there and then spend the night at my mothers’ house which is still available. Though it is “under contract”, it has not settled yet. So I stay in my old room in the house that was my parents’ home from before I was born. It is vacant and much of the contents is gone, but it is only 7 blocks from DeCarlos. How lucky I am to have such continuity in my life. It keeps me very grateful.
Copyright©. 2021 Bonnie B. Matheson