When I asked Beverly DeMarb to choose a lunch spot, she quickly opted for Ds Snack Shop in Beloit, Wis. Bev owned Perkins Tavern in South Beloit for almost four decades, retiring last spring, but shes been a patron of Ds for 64 yearssince first grade.
I want a hamburger with the works, she told Viola, adding fries and a sloppy chocolate malt to her order. I followed her lead, ordering a burger, but no fries.
You must have known your patrons pretty well? I guessed.
We did hayrides, canoe trips, casino trips, pot lucks, she said.
Did you identify with the TV show Cheers? I asked.
We could have put them to shame, she said. We were more in depth than that. Those people in (our) tavern…we have cried together, laughed together.
Before the tavern, Beverly ran a childrens dance studio: tap, ballet and baton.
I studied with the Canadian Ballet Company out of New York, she said. I wanted to be a teacher. The most rewarding part was not the ones who were adept, but the ones that really needed it…they were, maybe, exceptionally clumsy.
Like me, I identified, observing Bev was not the long, lanky ballet figure I would expect of a ballerina.
Bev attended Beloit Catholic High, and graduated from South Beloit High.
Your faith is important to you, I said.
Very, very, she confirmed.
She talked about her trip to Rome with a group from her church.
Oh, the cathedrals! They were beautiful…the history behind them, she said. One of the most interesting things…we went up into the hills to a small town. This wasnt something they did for tourists. The people in the community were all coming and singing, and the women had their kerchiefs on and they had their prayer books, and the reverence. I had never seen so much reverence. Hey, hey, she interrupted herself to reprimand Viola. Dont give her my hamburger and French fries! Viola had set Bevs plate in front of me.
What philosophies have you gotten from running a tavern? I asked.
Theres good in everybody, she said. My customers were basically blue-collar…very dedicated to their families. They made me realize and understand more than I would have otherwise. I watched people go through…getting laid off, and things like that. They more or less picked themselves up and went on. People would say, Oh, you own a tavern. Nobody realizes the good people that come in. It isnt just to get inebriated. Theres companionship. We used to have a lot of potlucks.
Other pearls from your 70 years? I asked.
Its not only the ups that make you the person you are, its the bumps along the way, the downs, she said.
Darlene, Ds owner (with her daughter, Diane), came over to say hi.
When Bev comes in, I usually fly over and then fly back, Darlene said. Whatd you do to your face? she asked Bev.
I ate too many tomatoes, Bev confessed, explaining the red splotches on her face.
And, of course, youre dipping in the ketchup, that helps, Darlene scolded.
I get a rash when I eat them, Bev explained.
Shes allergic, said Darlene.
Type B blood types arent supposed to eat tomatoes, I informed.
Well, then Ill just have to change my blood type, cause I wont give up tomatoes, Bev declared, keeping a straight face.
What kind of pies do you have today? I asked Darlene.
Today, I only have pecan, she said.
Thats a steal, I said.
We returned to Bevs story.
Your grandchildren talk to you? I asked.
They know they can tell me anything, Bev said. If I decide its very important, Ill tell them theyd better tell their parents. Cause if they dont, I will. They know I love them.
Do you give advice? I asked.
When they ask for it.
Youre not judgmental?
If you become judgmental, there are a lot of things that go along with that: Trust breakdown, Bev said. What Ive tried to do is tell them no matter what it is, I will love you forever.
Did you get your pie? Viola asked.
The most delicious pecan pie Ive ever eaten, I said. It melts in your mouth.
Are you thinking of getting a job? I asked Bev, wondering what she meant by retirement.
I wouldnt mind selling flowers, Bev said. I love flowers. Actually, what I want to do to is go to St. Peter School or South Beloit schools, lower grades, and volunteer my time. I love kids. I really believe South Beloit has done a lot of cutbacks. They could use me. St. Peters, too…that school survives on the bingo.
Lets play bingo sometime, I said.
I hate it, she said. You can play; Ill work, because I like to work.
Marjorie Stradinger is a free-lance writer residing in Roscoe. She has covered food, drama, entertainment, health, and business for publications in California and Illinois for the past 25 years.
From the Nov. 30-Dec. 6, 2005, issue