Sunday, July 31, 2011

The Niam era: Great while it lasted!

THE PASSING OF Gerrie Niam at 85 evokes happier memories of a tiny restaurant on Locust Street that was long the pulsating roundtable for Akron's lively sports crowd . It was a unique eatery that lured Runyonesque characters to debate the eternal truths of winning and losing athletic teams. Niam's Parkette (the modest name suggests it was not on the Mobil Travel
Guide's 5-star list) served as the bully pulpit, earthy gridiron textbook and proud recruiting site for the late Eddie Niam, hometown football scout and Gerrie's combative but usually lovable husband.

But as Eddie held forth on his incisive wisdom on Las Vegas point spreads, an area high school halfback's chances of donning a Notre Dame uniform, or angry doubts about an official's game-changing decision in a game played eons ago, it was Gerrie who nobly tried to maintain a near-normal restaurant business from a cramped grille behind the counter.

Her days were tortuously long - down to the restaurant by 5 a.m. to prepare for the breakfast patrons, on her feet for endless hours, managing the menu for the next day, and carefully trying to make her offerings - from hot dishes to hamburgers and salads - tasteful for all. Much of the time, she was forced to ignore Eddie's booth-hopping to diagram the plays that Notre Dame drew up to defeat a powerful rival the past week end.

Notre Dame? For Eddie, it was the natural progression of loyalty to his former high school buddy, Ara Parseghian, from Northwestern coach to the Fighting Irish, which, from birth, neither Ara nor Eddie ever were. No matter. The clientele soaked up the lore seated underneath Notre Dame game balls and posters and other reminders of Eddie's solid dedication to a campus that he had never attended as a student. The audience included cops, dentists, businessmen, jocks, urologists, journalists and even some Amish folks who did their best to ignore the special ambiance of the place.

In Gerrie's life, not enough attention was accorded her as the sturdy enabler of Eddie's treasured role in the restaurant. She accepted it as her unyielding duty to keep the doors open and the grille hot. And I had the feeling that she proudly found reasons to suffer it as business as usual. She did not take vacations and only once did she join Eddie on a a trip to a post-season bowl in Texas, where he, a collector of everything, brought back a huge sombrero and respectfully tacked it on the wall of their home amid the clutter of his other memorabilia.

She even resorted to some pained humor in their existence. "Funny," she once told me, "that Eddie can remember the score of a particular football game, but can't remember my birthday."

No matter, Gerrie. This piece is how I fondly remember an Akron institution that belongs in any historical account of noteworthy Akron families that offered the old rubber town a unique dimension. Now rest in peace.


David Hess said...

A beautiful tribute to an Akron icon. I hereby commission you to write my obituary.

The Turk said...

I concur with David Hess. Eddie Niam was the gadfly as you describe him and Gerri was the backbone of the restaurant. Without her Eddie would have never made it.

Grumpy Abe said...

David, only if you pay me in advance.

Melt The Fat Trainer said...

Thank's for writing this piece Abe. No one could ever write like you did about my family. I still read some of the pieces you wrote about me.

Mencken said...

My favorite Niam's story was the day Judge Murphy came in and said he had a black defendant in court that morning whose last name was also Murphy. Protocol dictated that Judge Murphy ask the defendant to state for the record that they were in no way related. According to the judge, the defendant said," I don't know your honor, how far back you checkin"?

You had to be there.

Mencken said...

One Saturday, after Modell moved the Browns to Baltimore, Eddie's usual suspects were sitting at their usual table. Joe LaRose and the gang were really dishing out the abuse to a crestfallen Ron Tedeshci, the head of the local Brown's Backers. "What do you think of your buddy Modell now, Ronnie"? Man they were riding Ronnie. Ronnie finally couldn't take it anymore, stood up, grabbed a knife off the table and pointed at his abusers, and screamed, "I'm not gonna take this shit from you guys anymore"! LaRose, not blinking an eye, yelled over to Gerrie's son Eric, "Hey Eric, get Ronnie a steak knife. He's threatening our lives and all he has is a stupid butter knife".

Scorcese couldn't have scripted it better.