Musings from a trip to Thai Country Café
Bright red lights flickering “Thai Country Café” ushered me towards a quaint restaurant nestled in the middle of the Delmar Loop. With the ring of a bell as I opened the door, an employee emerged from the back of the restaurant, walking toward me across the white-tiled floor.
It was 11:33 when I sat down, just three minutes after the restaurant opened. Mahogany tables with varying lengths filled the restaurant, the dark wood contrasting with the honey color that comprised the walls. I took a seat two tables down from the reception, anticipating a lunch rush and wanting an unobstructed view of each person who entered.
Ten minutes later, two people entered the restaurant — the only visitors who came in during the 4.5 hours I sat in the café. The first one through the door had short blond hair in a bob and a patterned green top. “Oh! This is a cute little place!” she exclaimed, and I guessed it might be their first time here.
“I know!” her friend responded. She wore sparkly tennis shoes and the effect of the St. Louis humidity on her red curly hair was palpable.
The two women, both middle-aged, sat in the middle of the restaurant across from me, existing in comfortable silence as they parsed through the menu and ate appetizers.
“Beef or shrimp? Beef or shrimp? Beef or shrimp?” the sparkly-shoed woman chanted like a flight attendant taking orders for a trip across the Atlantic.
“I don’t know! But so many of these dishes have peas in them,” her friend responded as I made eye contact with her. I never understood why many people vehemently despised peas. I’m sure she noticed my perplexed stare.
Eventually, she ordered number 49. “Can I have shrimp with it?” It was a good decision.
While waiting for their food, they played music on their phone like they had the whole restaurant to themselves.
Out of nowhere, the red-haired woman declared, “I used to go to concerts with Stephanie. We’re not friends anymore because she lives in California…She was my closest childhood friend.” Billy Strings played in the background, but she fell silent as she reminisced.
Then I, too, began to reminisce. I met my first best friend at church. Her name in my phone was Modge Podge because she liked art — it just made sense in my twelve-year-old brain. She told me that one day she wanted to become a fashion designer. I could barely draw stick figures, let alone clothing, but I appointed myself her business partner. We constantly begged our parents for sleepovers, and in the middle of Church sermons about compassion, we’d sneak out of the sanctuary to gossip.
“Glad we’ve been friends since forever. Friendships are tough,” the blond-bobbed woman responded to her friend, briefly interrupting my daydream.
Friendships are difficult, and hanging on to friendships you formed as a child is especially hard. I looked at these two women. They sat in silence for most of their lunch; they felt no need to keep the conversation going, no pressure to impress the other with a quip.
Sitting at a table pushed against a wall, I glanced at the decor next to me. A large plate with a magnolia-colored rim leaned on the wall. Engraved on it was a brown carriage and some lettering:
Thai Country Café
January 1, 1994
St. Louis, MO
For 27 years, this restaurant has stood strong — through a recession, a pandemic and the many quiet summers that come as college students leave for vacation. And here these two women sat, also having weathered many events, but with a friendship still intact.
Modge and I did not fare like these women, and I wondered about the circumstances that differentiated ours from theirs. As we grew older, those things we loved, like make-believe and mischief, began to fade. We started going to different schools, and our paths slowly diverged. Seeing each other in passing at church wasn’t enough. Our conversations became fewer, further and stiffer as the days went by.
And then the pandemic hit, and even the short conversations we had in passing evaporated. Our college decisions meant residing in different regions of the country. It hit me then that this person I grew up with wasn’t always going to be a constant in my life.
The silence was interrupted when the waiter arrived to give the women their meals. Inspired, I, too, decided to order.
“Can I please have the red curry…extra peas please!” The blond-bobbed hair woman would most definitely have been disappointed with me if she heard me.
It’s my usual order at Thai Country Café. I’ve ordered it so often that my regular waiter sometimes finishes off my request. A different person took my order today, but even though she couldn’t read my mind, she was lovely. Each time my water became half a cup, she promptly refilled it.
The music changed to Alanis Morrisette’s “You Oughta Know,” which is about an ex:
And I’m here, to remind you
Of the mess you left when you went away
It’s not fair, to deny me
Of the cross I bear that you gave to me
You, you, you oughta know
There’s such a massive cultural acknowledgment of how painful romantic breakups are. There are constantly movies and songs about how difficult romantic breakups are, but not so much on the topic of friendship. It’s odd because the emotional bond we feel with friends is often stronger and has lasted longer than that of romantic partners.
Long-time friends are a reflection of the various steps of our childhood; they are a living archive of our past. Once that friendship ends, a new era of your history begins. And your memories, the primary sources you once harkened back to now and again for good comedic relief, suddenly plunge you into light melancholia, even in the middle of a meal at Thai Country Café.