Sunday, February 19, 2017

Waiting On Tables and Love In The Town Cafe

In the autumn of 1952, my maternal grandmother Marilyn was 15-years-old and working as a waitress at Letha's Cafe in the small Kansas prairie town of Plainville.

During one of her shifts, she met her soon-to-be husband, my grandfather Charles.

Letha's Cafe was situated on Mill Street - one of the town's main commercial thoroughfares - in a brick building with a large glass window.

The Town's Nicest Cafe
In November 1960, the Plainville Times wrote, "For 16 years, Letha, of Letha's Cafe, has cooked thousands of meals and baked over 50,000 pies - sounds impossible, but she has. Many people regard Letha's Cafe highly because she has remained open many times when it would have been nice to take the day off and rest, but faithful customers who eat all their meals there, impel her to remain open."

The Plainville Times added, Letha Dugan "purchased the building in which she has been located" in the mid 1940s (pictured below).

Site of Letha's Cafe on Mill Street in Plainville, Kansas
In a 2014 interview, Marilyn remembered what brought Charles to town.

"I was waiting tables at Letha's Cafe in Plainville and going to high school. I was a junior in high school, and he came there with Western Electric to install the dial system in the town of Plainville."

Charles and Marilyn
Before then, "Everybody had to call the operator to make their telephone calls, or you could ring someone on your line, just ring it with the crank. But they wanted dial telephone in Plainville, of course, cause time marches on."

While in town to install the dial telephone, Charles, who was originally from Muskogee, Oklahoma, frequently dined at Letha's. She recalled, "that's where [he] ate. It was probably the nicest cafe in Plainville with good home cooking that was reasonable. It was excellent food."

They would chat during his meals. When pressed about their first exchange or their courtship, she simply said, "He asked to take me home after work one night and that's where my Okie from Muskogee came from."

"We didn't date very long," she added. They married in November 1952 in a small civil ceremony at the county courthouse in Stockton.

"I dropped out of high school and I got married. It was not a must. I just wanted to be married and I didn't want the encumbrance of school."

Her attitude about her education would change when twenty-four years later she earned her high school diploma. Not a GED, but an actual high school diploma.

Time Marches On
In October 2014, after my grandmother's funeral, I wandered down Mill Street and found the building that housed Letha's Cafe. The restaurant had long been out of business.

Staring through the glass window into the vacant space, I imagined the meeting my grandmother recounted for me just months before. Both Charles and Marilyn were now deceased and this building was a quiet remembrance of their chance encounter and love.


  1. Such a wonderful story, and it must have given you goosebumps to visit the site where they met.

    1. It really did give me goosebumps, like I had stepped back into my own family history and at any moment could see my grandparents playing out the scene some 62 years later.

  2. What a great story and a nice tribute. I, too, went back to look in an old store window in Calais, Maine as my great grandmother had run a ladies' store business there in the 1920s and 1930s.

    1. I suppose just like heirlooms or objects passed down, the physical buildings where our ancestors lived and worked hold great meaning.

  3. What a wonderful tribute to your grandparents. ~ Cathy

    1. Thank you, Cathy. I'm glad I was able to learn the story of their meeting. Otherwise, I'm afraid it would have been lost to history.

  4. What a great story you turned their meeting into. So glad the building is still standing so you were able to see and visualize with your own eyes.

    1. I was fortunate that the building was still standing. In fact, it looked like the exterior had recently been spruced up. That's a relief when it seems it's so common for small town's to tear down older structures.