UNLESS YOU LIVED within 150 miles of Shreveport, Louisiana in the 70’s and 80’s, Abe Ritman is an unknown.
To me though, that man was a TV star. In the mid 80’s, Abe starred in commercials for his restaurant. I don’t remember much about them, except the man wanted you to come eat his crawfish and seafood and have a good time. His commercials would appear on KTAL-TV in the middle of Newscenter 6 with Dale Hoffman, Ginger Morgan, Ron Young, and Al LeGrand.
I just had to go visit Abe.
I was 6-years-old.
Just ahead of my 7th birthday, I got the bright idea that I wanted to be awake at the exact time I was born. The baby book showed it was 5:20 a.m. at Mother Francis Hospital in Tyler, Texas. So, on July 18, 1985, that’s what we did.
Grandma Suck, Tank, and Jane came over before the sun was up to celebrate with Mama and me. Daddy was off at work on the railroad, but he called in at the appointed time. They sang “Happy Birthday,” and Grandma gave me a box of Legos.
My aunt Jane, who was about to be a senior in high school, sang while yawning, and promptly went to another room to find a place to finish sleeping.
After assembling the Legos, and the visitors had dispersed, Mama and I headed out for Shreveport. A 2-hour trip to the big city… the “capital of the Ark-La-Tex.”
Of course, I begged Mama to slow down when we passed by the channel 6 studios on North Market Street so I could stare at the building, the satellite dishes, and the tower. After all, that’s where my heroes worked. Funny how that never faded.
Then we were off to meet Daddy at the hotel and swim in the big hotel pool. I remember the chlorine was stout but swimming with him and Mama was an adventure. We enjoyed the day a
t the pool while watching the big bombers fly over from Barksdale Air Force Base just across the river.
Daddy’s railroad run at the time was from Texarkana to Shreveport and back. He would drive from our home in De Kalb to the Texarkana yard, get on a train, work all the way south to the Hollywood Yard off Jewella in Shreveport, spend the night in a hotel, and do it all over again the next day until he was back at the home terminal.
On this run, his Shreveport stay happened to present this opportunity to go meet Abe.
When we got to the restaurant for dinner, a nice older lady greeted us and took us to our table. I immediately asked about Abe.
“Oh honey, he’s not here today. I’ll have to tell him you asked about him.”
Disappointment. We came all this way just to meet the man and eat at his restaurant.
“Since he’s not here, why don’t I show you his aquariums and his office?”
A nice consolation for a little boy, I suppose. Looking back, I can’t imagine restaurants ever give tours of the back office to customers of any age.
Above Abe’s desk on a bulletin board was a picture of the man sitting in a dunking booth at some festival. The kind lady unpinned the photograph and gave it to me.
“Would you like to have it?”
“Sure! Thank you so much!”
I kept that picture for years, along with a bumper sticker that I obviously didn’t understand. In big red letters on a white background it read:
“EAT OYSTERS – LOVE LONGER – ABE’S SEA & SIRLOIN – 1900 MARKET ST.”
We didn’t eat crawfish since it was out of season, but at the end of the meal they brought out this concoction I hadn’t seen before.
A beignet covered in powdered sugar with a candle sticking out of the top.
The staff sang “Happy Birthday” and I made a wish and blew out the candle.
Well, I tried to. The candle sparked and came back to life.
A trick candle.
I was NOT happy. I just knew that my wish wouldn’t come true since I didn’t blow out the candle on the first try.
I never got to meet Abe in person. I found that he died in 1998, was life-long Shreveporter and was active in the Shreveport-Bossier Jewish community.
The restaurant is gone too, but I still eat beignets when I get back to Louisiana. Even when it’s not my birthday.