The Golden Apple, 2971 N. Lincoln Ave. in Chicago does not have a key to gain entry.
My favorite Greek diner never closes.
The door is always open for opportunity.
Marie Williams understood this. I got to know Marie during the 1980s when I lived in West Lakeview. She was the second
shift waitress at the Apple. We both loved Lefty Frizzell and Merle Haggard. I loved her silver fork and spoon earrings that were given to her by a loyal customer. Her black eyelashes fluttered like the wings of a lark.
Marie was the second oldest of 23 children born to Alberta and Alonzo Williams of Atlanta, Ga.
She knew how to find her way........
.......Marie was in an assisted living facility in Rockford, Ill. She called me about twice a year. I had profiled Marie in a July 9, 1993 edition of my old Nocturnal Journal column for the Sun-Times.
Her father Alonzo was a disabled sign painter who died in 1976. Alberta died in 1958 from complications after the birth of her fourth set of twins. She was 42. At the time there were 14 children living in the family's Uptown home. Marie's family followed the great Appalachian migration to Chicago.
"My Mom knew she was going to die," Marie told me in 1993. "She was OK until surgery. She asked me to keep all the kids together. I promised her I would. But after about four months I couldn't handle it. I had to let them go out into foster homes. That's where I started losing track of them."
On Mother's Day 1993, one of the sisters called Wally Phillips on WGN-AM (720) asking for help to accelerate years of searching for family members. Phillips helped assemble a reunion for 14 members of the Williams clan at the Hyatt Regency Chicago. The reunion went so well Phillips organized another one in July, 1993 in Atlanta for the entire Williams clan. Marie was excited.
She had never taken a vacation.
Marie's first work experience was at the age of 9, picking cotton between sunrise and sunset in a Georgia field.
"That's where I grew up with country music," she said. "Lefty, Hank Williams and Kitty Wells. I can still remember my first date. I was 14 and we danced to Hank Snow's 'Movin' On.' It's funny how those things still register. Country music is true to life. I don't know how to say it, but whatever you do today, you can put into country music tomorrow. It's reality.
"My whole life has pertained to it."
Bridget Bullistron has been a waitress at the Golden Apple since 1986.
She defined Marie's 3 p.m.-11 p.m. shift with warmth. "She made great southern biscuits and gravy," Bullistron said on Monday. "She would bring them in for me. She would always remember everybody at Christmas. She would give everybody cards and presents. She was real good about things like that."
When I wrote about Marie she had been a waitress for 43 of her 57 years. Her first job was at age 14 at a diner in Louisville, Ky. Marie worked seven days, five days after school, bringing home $25. She immediately turned the money over to her parents.
It had to be that way.
Marie worked dozens of Chicago restaurants. She favored the kind of places where guys read the Sun-Times print edition at the counter. She said, "Mostly, if you're great to people--and I don't care, even if they've had a bad day--eventually they'll be great to you. It's up to a waitress to get to know her people." One time Marie showed me a story a Northwestern University student wrote about her. The journalist poked fun at her smoky voice. Marie couldn't understand why someone would do that to someone who worked so hard.
And then she smiled. She had seen worse.
This woman had deep dignity.
Marie's story is why I do what I do. It seems like a small story but it carries a mighty message about true ethic.
In a recent e-mail Hillburn wrote, "I was going through her things today and came across your article on her. She kept it proudly and very well laminated...I too am a waitress for 30 year and just as good as her. She taught me everything I know and my customers love me. It feels good to know my Mom taught me all this." Ruby, 46, worked with her mom at the Golden Apple and now serves the early shift at the Morning Glory restaurant near downtown Rockford.
There are lessons to be learned all around us.
Just keep your eyes and heart as open as the doors to the Golden Apple restaurant.
Besides Ruby, Marie Williams was survived by her children Ralph Smith, Lucy Delgado, James Smith, Daniel Smith and 14 grandchildren. She was pre-deceased by her sons Raymond and Keva Smith. Services have been held.