I don’t remember the first time I met Kitty Meras. I wish I did, but our first exchange was likely limited to her taking my order at what would soon become my favorite spot in Riverhead.
I don’t even remember falling in love with Papa Nick’s, officially Star Confectionary or, as I’ve always called it, The Luncheonette. But I do know it didn’t take long. Opening the turn-of-the-century wood and glass doors is to retreat into one of our last bastions of small town life. Passing the lunch counter on the way to a booth, a parade of customers have always hollered out a greeting to Tony (or now Anthony) or a shout back as the Meras behind the counter would almost always spot you first.
But I was talking about Kitty, who was and will always be at the heart of Papa Nick’s and that feeling of being welcomed like family.
They are a bit like family. After getting our marriage license at Town Hall, we headed straight to Kitty and Tony to share the news. When we closed on our house, had our new baby, when dozens of big and little life events happened or just for no reason other than an urge for Tony’s homemade Oreo ice cream, I’d pay a visit. If she had a minute, and usually even though she didn’t, Kitty’d slide into the booth with me and share a few laughs.
I’ve been thinking about her pretty much constantly since I felt my heart crack hearing of her passing. I’ve been thinking about who she was and who she was to me and how very lucky I was to know her, and be on her good side. Nobody wanted to be on her bad side.
With Kitty, you always knew where you stood because Kitty never held back, never shied away, never side-stepped, never seemed to have any doubts about who she loved, what she loved, what mattered, what didn’t and who she was. And she was fine with all of that. And so was everyone who knew her because, in addition to being a powerhouse, she was a hoot who saw the humor in everything. Think of Kitty and mostly you think of Kitty laughing or smiling. Or swearing. That too, was part of her charm.
Wanted an opinion? She’s give you hers. Didn’t? You’d get it anyway.
Without my realizing it early on, Kitty set an eye-opening example of the woman I could be too. And over time, the lessons seeped in so that there is now a certain Kitty-ness in me, too. Confident in what I believe in and who I am, and not afraid to speak out or apologize for any of it.
I take solace in thinking of this as her legacy. Not just my being influenced but so many, including my own daughters and her fortunate granddaughters. We are all a little more forceful and take a little less flack, only we’ll never take the place of Kitty. The best we can do is carry on in her honor and be grateful to have known her.
[divider] A not-quite lifelong, but devoted Riverhead local, Cindy Clifford splits her time between WALK radio, Gotta Go Cruises, voiceovers and assorted creative projects. A co-creator/producer of ‘The Apron Strings Project,’ she’s currently working on a live radio staging of “It’s A Wonderful Life” at Patchogue Theater in November.
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