When I was a young lad living in Shepparton one of the school holidays greatest pleasures was being taken by Nana to Coles Cafeteria. You’d walk through the cramped aisles of the department store, past the groceries, then the hardware and through the small door to the cafe.
To a young child it was a wonderful place. It seemed so large, so many tables and so dark and cool. You’d grab your plastic tray and start pushing along the shelf eyeballing the wonders in front of you. There was the bain marie full steaming hot food; but I’d always go for the fish and chips, dolled out by the matronly lady in her white Coles coat. Next would be a drink, lemonade most likely, before pushing the tray to true kiddy nirvana – the dessert section. Now I had jelly a lot as a kid, it wasn’t that special but I couldn’t wait to grab a plastic cup of green jelly smothered in whipped cream and plonk it on to my tray. The tray, and our journey, ended at the register where Nana would always have a chat to the lady sitting on the stool while I played with the pats of silver wrapped butter. Once Nana had finished it was my job to go and get the cutlery from the station and, if we were really lucky, take it back to the booth we had secured. I’d sit there and eat, looking at the American style soda fountain, wondering when I’d be old enough to go to that by myself.
I never got the chance ’cause Coles was torn down when I was about 12. Everything was sold off, the building razed and a soulless mall that no one ever shopped in was put up in its place.
This might explain why I love it when Rae has a cup of tea at Cut Paw Paw. The owners have a little piece of my past. They must have picked it up from a more local store, maybe the old Coles in Footscray that closed down, but just for a moment I can be back with Nana; just me, her and all the time in the world.