So many of my favorite childhood memories took place in the 1970s. During what author and journalist Tom Wolfe called the “Me Decade,” the zeitgeist of the 1960s evolved across America and some wanted nothing more than to shut the curtains on the wars and social upheaval of the previous decade. For others, the 70s fueled an aggressive assertion of identity, especially for groups who had been relegated to the sidelines, or even worse, to the shadows.
For me the 1970s was a darker palette than the avocado greens and perky oranges of the time. I remember grey skies, gas lines filled with brown corduroy figures and the peace sign being edged out by the symbol for female. The times I felt most alive and not just a silent observer of this strange time were spent at The Yellow Brick Restaurant in my home town of Shepherdstown, West Virginia. It was here that I’d discover my own That One Piece some 35 years later.
Illustration above by Viola Guerrero,
The Yellow Brick Bank was not yellow. But it was like a rainbow to me. It took the brown malaise of the decade and lit it up like a fantastic cabaret. Inside the YBB was Liza Minelli, Cher, Brooke Shields and Studio 54. It was laughter and pink walls and fruit garnishes. It was Mom and Zora, Clifford and Kevin and Franny and her twin from the art store in town.
Image above by Ric Dugan
Image above (clockwise): Yellow Brick Bank owner and operator Kevin Connell, Clifford Branson, the YBB’s prolific waiter (center), Kevin Connell with Shepherdstown’s favorite twins Franny (right) and her sister. Photos from a private collection.
It was the kind of place that felt like it never closed, was never sad and always made you feel like a movie star. At the Yellow Brick Bank I was Jodie Foster or Tatum O’Neal or Nancy Drew. But I would get sleepy as the party was just getting started and I would crawl under the table and count the gum wads on the underside until I fell asleep. It was the kind of place where a furry coat from the Lost and Found in the old bank vault would be tenderly tucked around me as I lay dreaming on the floor in my own little penthouse.
I had no idea then that one of those sea green tables would be living in the center (literally) of my home underneath a 5′ x 5′ skylight that illuminates it, as if it needed any more light.
I call it the sacred table.
Its legs are wobbly and its paint chipped. An inch of clunky and out-of-place formica sits on top of the original table top. Presumably to add a little bit more height to match the slightly higher seats on the vintage white wicker benches that Kevin matched with the tables to make private booths.
As a child I’d trace the table’s ornate wooden curvatures with my drowsy forefinger as a ritual precursor to my late-night nap. The curves became a roadmap to slumber, a drive I could make from memory or in my sleep. While others counted sheep, I dreamed in loops dripping with my favorite color from my crayon box.
I was reunited with this sacred table during what was technically a breaking and entering scenario. While I was walking past the YBB as a 40-something-year-old woman, I saw that the side door was open just a crack. I knew that door led to the upper level of the building and I remembered the stunning view that it held. I crept up the steep stairs chortling a friendly hello, but no one answered. I arrived at the top of the stairs and turned towards the wide open room now under renovation.
There it was — my sea green table, dusty and worn, looking about as lonely as a table from a rainbow could.
Later that evening, after a lot of detective work and a few five dollar bills, I took my table home and the party began again. —Caitlin