There are some people you meet that are such a perfect archetype it almost makes you want to give a cheer. So it was meeting Mama Bessie Carine, the archetype of the Italian grandmother, down to her flowered apron, the shiny religious medals, the bun on the back of her head, her effusive welcome and parting hugs. But above all her involvement with everythIng to do with fabulous food.

Mama Carine was a young bride when she and her husband began their Italian Fish food restaurant in Forth Bragg, California in 1947 on the fisherman’s wharf there. Sixty seven years later and she is still there! Of course, she is now with her son, Dominic, waiting table with an customer-charming smile and a black tee shirt. Her husband died seven years ago, but, “What am I to do?” she asks, with that classic Italian shrug. “ I love people, I need to be here.” So she does.

With her aging knees, she still reigns at the first table welcoming customers with a beguiling smile, deftly ringing up all the sales on her ancient cash register and sending the well sated customers out the door with a hug and a cheerful, “Come back and see us!” (and they have, for many return again and again, just like family)

After a meal of bounteous and delicious food (the best clam chowder ever!) we considered different ways to return to the Ukiah valley and Dominic suggested a route going south. He sketched it out on a slip of paper. Then, he said, “You can stop at Gowan’s fruit stand just this side of Philo and say ‘hello’ to my daughter, Stephanie.”

He had proudly showed me pictures of both his daughters. “Will you go there?” he asked. “Well, probably..” I replied. So he wrote on the slip of paper, ‘Stephanie, I love you… Daddy’

“Not Pappa?” I asked? “

No, I’m Daddy,” he declared.

After taking a photo of with Mama Bessie and receiving warm hugs we were on our way. We did stop at Gowan’s fruit stand. Gordon went in and inquired if a Stephanie worked there. She was a little wary at the inquiry. But she rang up my produce with the same efficient style her grandmother was doing several dozen miles away at the same time.

I handed her the slip of paper and said, “This is from your father.”

She read it and exclaimed, “Did he tell you to come here?”

“Yes.” She read the message and blushed prettily. She looked up. “He’s never done that before.”

“Save it, honey,” I told her.

We left with an armload of corn, pears and green beans and a heart full of delight at being bearers of a message of love from father to daughter in a clan obviously devoted to hard work, great food and family. When I had left Mama Bessie Carine I had taken her hands and told her. “What joy it is to meet someone who has so perfectly fulfilled what God sent you to earth to do. Sixty seven years of feeding people beautiful food and giving them hugs on their way!” She ducked her head modestly. “ We just do our best.” she smiled. Your best is awesome, Mama Bessie Carine.. “I love the world, I love people.” she declares. That’s what we are all sent here to do!  And furthermore she has fed the multitudes for near seven decades along the way!



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