In March of 1975, I came to Rochester as a teenager and stayed on my own as a patient at the Mayo Clinic. I was left in the watchful care of an elderly couple who ran a small motel within walking distance of the subway, and those kind people checked on me each morning and night to make sure that I was on time to all my appointments and that I got safely to the bus station when I was through.
They treated me, basically, like family.
I asked them where they recommended I take dinner, and they were adamant I go to a nearby restaurant called the Green Parrot Cafe. I could not miss it, they said, because of the prominent neon sign out front, and they called the owners to tell them I was coming.
After my first full day of testing, I walked into the Green Parrot, and the elderly couple who ran the place recognized me and seated me immediately. When they could, they joined me just to provide company.
I remember being lonely and anxious at night, but the owners of the Green Parrot made me feel at home, so I went there every evening of my stay. I expect anyone who lived in Rochester back then will attest that the food was wonderful. I remember vividly, for instance, a beautiful rainbow trout they served me, probably the daily special.
At 61, I find myself again a patient at Mayo Clinic, and last February, I asked a volunteer about the Green Parrot restaurant. A white-haired security guard remembered it fondly and directed me to John Kruesel’s antique store on Historic 3rd Street, where he thought I might find the actual sign. The owner was not there, but his daughter confirmed that he was indeed restoring the sign, not to sell it, she said, but to preserve important local history.
When I returned home, I reached out to a Rochester history group on Facebook, and within a day someone posted a photo of the restaurant. Seeing that landmark sign again triggered memories of the simple kindnesses of those owners, and I experienced a deep, heartfelt gratitude.
Yesterday, I went back to Kruesel’s and met John for the first time. When I asked if he had the sign, he reached over and handed me a copy of a 1960s menu from the restaurant. He also informed me that he plans to hang the restored sign either outside his shop, or on the building where the restaurant used to be, though that space might soon be torn down.
My new friend John shared with me, too, that it was the Klopp family who ran that wonderful restaurant. It has been 46 six years now, but I keep them in a very tender place in my memory.
Today, visitors of all ages look out from the large windows high up the Gonda Building and still see landmarks. We still see that historic neighborhood, full of restaurants and small businesses, which after decades have never stopped being a place of welcoming kindness to patients and their families. New shopkeepers and wait staff continue to provide an oasis of normalcy to people who come from across the country because their worrisome challenges are difficult to diagnose.
I encourage the city leadership to keep preserving that history, with pride that Rochester continues to be a place where troubled strangers are met with what the poet William Wordsworth called, “the little nameless acts of kindness and of love” that make up the greater part of a good person’s life.
Rob Prescott is the Associate Dean of Liberal Arts and Sciences at Bradley University, Peoria, Ill.