Everyone has a safe place. Someplace they can go and be safe – whatever that means. For some that place is a place to hide, to be alone with their thoughts and fears, but be safe – like their bedroom, the woods near their home, or in a cemetery near their loves ones. For others it might be a place they go to read and have a tea and be around people, but feel safe – like Starbucks or Borders. For others, it is a place that brings back memories of a happier time – like an ice rink where their child used to play, walking around the mall where they used to shop, or a restaurant that their loved one used to enjoy.
For me, it is this last one.
For most of our lives, New Year’s Eve was a time spent with our immediate family. Early on, the four of us would go to small gatherings at friends’ homes and enjoy ourselves with others. But as life went on and changes happened, those invitations slowly stopped. We then had a few people over our home for a few years, and it was nice. But what really comes to mind, and with happy memories, are the last several years when the four of us just went out to an early dinner together.
We chose this particular restaurant, Via Vanti in Mt. Kisco, for many reasons. First, they had been a client of mine since they opened in 2008. Over the years, Dorothy and I became close friends with the owners, Carla and Scott. We had been there many times together, with the kids, and we have taken many of our friends there. We never had a meal there that was not amazing. We had gotten to know the wait staff and the managers – and it was so great when we walked in and they all knew our names…sort of a Cheers thing.
So when we had nothing to do for New Year’s Eve several years ago, Via Vanti was the first place we thought of. We had an early dinner, around 8PM, so we could be home before the drunks hit the road, and we could watch the ball drop from the comfort of our living room. I can’t recall what we ate for dinner that night, but what I do remember is that Andrew and Nicole were raving about the meal. The real treat was after dinner – gelato. Carla’s gelato counter is famous. She has won numerous awards for her gelato; the highest ratings from Zagat’s, Best of Westchester, and many more. You could get as many tastes of the various flavors that you want. Andrew and Nicole were in heaven, but making their final choices was always hard.
One thing lead to another, and Nicole eventually worked there. She was known as the gelato girl in the beginning. With her smiles and giggles, and her eagerness to give out free samples, she was always a hit when she worked there for the summer. Then for another summer, and then for a third. Always being able to work around her hockey schedule and her camps. She learned to bus tables, serve food, and was even a bartender before she could legally drink. Andrew could not wait for her to come home after work for she usually bore gifts. Pasta with Bolognese sauce, pizzette with wild hog sausage, figs, and cheese, five cheese ravioli with roasted pears and pistachios – there was always something left over at the restaurant at night and Nicole seemed to be the one who got it. And it was usually accompanied by a scoop of some devilishly good gelato. Those are the memories I have of when Nicole worked there. She was always happy to bring home food for her brother, and he was always more than happy to eat whatever she brought him.
After we lost Andrew, we too were lost. New Year’s Eve followed Hanukkah, Christmas and Thanksgiving. All very difficult times for us. Andrew’s birthday was December 30th. What could we possibly do the following evening, for New Year’s Eve that would not leave us devastated? I am not sure who brought it up, but when the idea of Via Vanti for dinner came up, it seemed such a natural choice for us. For it was not only my safe place, it was a safe place for all of us. We knew the owners, we knew the waiters, and they all had known Andrew. And we had been there for New Year’s Eve a few times already – in happier times.
So that is where we went, to our safe place, for New Year’s Eve. And we went there the following year, and it was even nicer. They did not come out with party hats for us, they did not come over to the table with laughter and cheer. They knew why we were there and they made us feel so…well, safe. We did not intrude into others celebrations, nor did we share our sorrows with them. Scott sat with us for a long time and talked about life, about what he was up to. He asked about Nicole’s college and her hockey, and Dorothy’s work. It was one of the first times we went out and were able to not cry, but to enjoy being with ourselves, and our friends.
Via Vanti has also been the place I run to when I get upset during the day and I am not near home. There have been times that I received an e-mail from someone who knew Andrew, and they tell me how much he meant to them, or they share a story about my son, or they just want to reach out to me. I love receiving these e-mails, but it makes functioning and focusing for a few hours afterward difficult. Many times over the past three years these e-mails have forced me to take a break and run and hide. But instead of being alone, I head over to my safe place and hang out in the office with Scott and Carla, and share with them what I have received or what I just heard. More than once we have all teared up while talking about Andrew.
But now I am losing my safe place. After eight amazing years Via Vanti will be no more. Their landlord has not renewed their lease and are forcing the closing of Via Vanti at their present locale. And I am selfish in this. I don’t want to lose my safe place. I don’t want to not be able to go there, where everyone knows my name. Sometimes I go and stand near the gelato counter and stare at the table where we sat and had our family dinners. We smiled and laughed and talked so freely about so many things. I stand there and recall Andrew asking Nicole for more and more samples, just to tease her, but she was always eager to hand them out. I recall the pasta, and the burgers, and the pizzettes that made my children smile and happy to eat. For whatever Carla had on the menu, they loved.
It was at Via Vanti during dinner where, after watching Bar Rescue one afternoon, Andrew had a realization. I remember he asked us a very simple question he could not understand such an obvious answer to. He asked “so if waiters and waitresses are nice to their customers and smile at them, the customers give them bigger tips and they make more money – why wouldn’t they be nice all the time? I just don’t get it.” Such a simple thought for such a complex kid who had to analyze everything.
And that is how it is ending. Such a simple place, a restaurant, that has given my family and me so many happy memories of being a family, of eating together, smiling together, and loving food and family together. I will forever hold these memories in my mind, and in my soul, Thank you Carla, thank you Scott. Thank you Sal, Alex, Andi, Greg, and Andrew (the last person Nicole trained to take her spot when she went off to college, pretty ironic, huh?), and everyone else who has touched us and kept my safe place for me.
Hopefully, as time goes on, I won’t need that safe place as much as I have for the past few years. But it saddens me that this one won’t be there anymore.
bereavement child loss