|GOING HOME TO SAY GOODBYE|
STORY AND PHOTOGRAPHY BY CHRIS POH
first encounter with the regulars at this snug trackside tavern was
some time around the fall of Saigon to the North Vietnamese. My
brother-in-law, Jim, who was not that far removed from in his own time
in country, and I wandered in during one of our well orchestrated
planned Saturday afternoon breaks from visiting the family. The typical
modus operandi consisted of a claim that we were running low on beer,
cigarettes or the maraschino cherries needed for my mom’s manhattans,
and that we would gladly be willing to go on the hunt for provisions.
On that particular day we would forgo our normal tap side stools down
the road in favor of breaking new ground at the MILL LANE TAVERN
in Rockaway, New Jersey.
My recollection of that afternoon is limited: drab décor, stale tobacco, bottles of Miller High life and a number of older eyes questioning the presence of these young interlopers. My next social call to the MILL LANE TAVERN would come some thirty four years later under sad but similar circumstances. In an effort to evade the obligations of family protocol, Jimmy and I slipped out of my mom’s wake to seek the solace of the nearest saloon. This second, by chance entry would leave me pleasantly surprised.
THE MILL LANE TAVERN IN ROCKAWAY, NEW JERSEY
THE BAR ROOM IS NARROW, BUT THE WELCOME IS WIDE
|ACTIVE FREIGHT LINE TRACKS CROSS THE CHURNING ROCKAWAY RIVER. CAN'T YOU ALMOST SMELL THE CREOSOTE SUFFUSED OZONE?|
less than cheery atmosphere of the old place had been replaced with
a handsome finely crafted interior, warm and welcoming patrons and an
enlightened choice of libations. During the ensuing hours friends and
family gathered at this sheltered oasis to provide support and to share
their own memories of my mother’s life. Their kindness along with
several pints of Railbender Ale would prove to be
the perfect antidote
to a difficult day.
Since that occasion I’ve returned to the MILL LANE TAVERN several times. My fondness for the establishment has grown with each visit. And I must admit with some amount of trepidation that I am very surprised by my willingness to return to the town of my youth. I normally ascribe to the Thomas Wolfe point of view that says you can’t go home again.
But here I am again standing on the banks of the river that refused to yield a single Brown trout to this once young aspiring angler; and for which this charming pre-Revolutionary community was named. As I had so many years ago, I wandered the tracks that metaphorically represented an escape from the constraints of adolescence. Now those same tracks deliver me to the comforts and amenities of middle age found at the MILL LANE TAVERN.
When I was a child this tavern was thought to be nothing more than the old man’s bar next to the candy store. Today that candy store has become a popular eatery called Potbelly's Riverside Cafe, and MILL LANE TAVERN has become a safe harbor for the young of heart of any age. As I reflect upon this setting, it is easy to understand why New Jersey born writer and director, Thomas McCarthy chose this town and this tavern for a number of scenes in his highly acclaimed film, The Station Agent. Here is one of those rare instances when one can go home again - and the reality of the present exceeds the memories of the past.
POTBELLY'S RIVERSIDE CAFE NEXT TO THE MILL LANE TAVERN
MILL LANE TAVERN
8 MILL LANE
ROCKAWAY, NEW JERSEY 07866
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