Pals Cabin and the value of tradition: One family's story of connectedness (2024)

They tore down Pals Cabin to build a CVS. Because that it precisely what our area needs: another chain pharmacy on every corner at each intersection.

We don’t have enough large, impersonal megastores, nail salons, and banks that change names every other month littered through our neighborhoods.

Growing up in suburban Essex County, the area was strewn with epicurean delights, cultural finds, and great opportunities to have some fun. If there was a little-known gem of a shop or restaurant, my grandmother knew of it.

Although Pals Cabin was more of a rock of a landmark than a hidden gem, my grandmother and most everyone else knew about it. Everyone ate there. Pals Cabin was a legend of a restaurant. It became mythic.

During the Great Depression of 1932, it stood as a tiny tin and clapboard shack. The odds were firmly against it. No one thought some tiny hot dog shack would withstand a strong gust of wind no less a barren economy.

It did stand though. The 'little-shack-that-couldn't' grew. The owners added a dining room and a piano player. Babe Ruth and Duncan Hines dined there. HBO's The Sopranos filmed two episodes at the famous eatery.

For our own extended family, the restaurant was a meeting place of sorts. With my maternal matriarch’s offspring and grandchildren spread out across the country, the family would come to New Jersey to visit and we would dine at Pals.

My grandmother, or 'Nan' as we would affectionately call her, would insist everyone try the cream of mushroom soup. You had to let them put the dash of paprika on top. If cream-based soups weren't your fancy, they had a great 'foot-long' hot dog, juicy burgers, and a reuben sandwich with sauerkraut to rival any deli. With old-fashioned hot fudge sundaes with real whipped cream on top, who could go wrong?

It wasn’t about the food though. Pals was about time-honored tradition. Pals was about family. Pals was about memories. It was about laughing until Shirley Temples poured out our noses. It was about love celebrated within its walls.

It is sad that these walls no longer stand. Where Pals Cabin once stood is now all ruble: a mess of gravel surrounded by a chain-link fence.

Things must evolve or die out. Pals Cabin needed some special care and attention. In a day and age where the value behind restoring something is lost to the convenience of just rebuilding and starting over, destruction was more favorable.

I read that it was a matter of money. With $20,000 in utilities a month and over $16,000 a month in taxes, there wasn't much incentive to save tradition. That is a lot of burgers to flip and sell. It also makes me a bit suspicious about the markup on mouthwash. It seems that whatever Pals lost in burgers, CVS will recover in toothpaste, toiletries, and prescriptions.

My West Coast cousins came to visit this past summer ironically just days after Pals Cabin closed their doors. We evolved.

We found a new Italian restaurant to withstand our large brood of three generations and noisy camaraderie fueled by both wine and years of recounted memories. A good time was had by all. The evening it itself was a tribute to a matriarch who has moved on past this world yet loved a family get-together more than anyone.

Now months later in the local market, I see that they are featuring some of Pals Cabin's favorite menu items. Fairchild's Market in Roseland sells the mushroom soup. My three-year old daughter has become addicted.

I posted a picture on Facebook of the soup with the Pals label and a family discussion commenced. The soup seems to serve as a glue of sorts keeping familial communication connected.

Perhaps the Pals magic is alive even from store shelves. Perhaps a toddler’s consumption of about a quart of cream-based soup a week equates with bad parenting. Perhaps, as my cousin jested, my little daughter, Sienna, is channeling my Nan through her soup consumption.

Perhaps. Stranger things have happened. A little shack outlived the Great Depression, two world wars, a small fire, an accident which propelled a truck through its dining room, only many years later to be leveled by the ever-enterprising corporate America.

Today, I gave in and tried the soup. It is the same yet bittersweet. With each spoonful came a poignant reminder to honor tradition while it thrives. Tradition is underrated and undervalued in our culture. Do not be fooled. It is precious.

We must remain mindful to live fully in the present. Enjoy today with your families. You never know what will end an era. Today’s gathering will be tomorrow’s memories and never to be lived again.

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Pals Cabin and the value of tradition: One family's story of connectedness (2024)


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