Jean Barnish waitressed for years in Brigantine, her longtime hometown. Her jobs included the old Pee Wee’s and the Circle Tavern.
So, later in her life, if somebody was happy to wait on her, Barnish was happy to sit back and enjoy it.
Her favorite waiter was her grandson, Michael Caulfield, who was her favorite chef, too. The two had a weekly tradition with Nicole Barnish, another grandchild. Caulfield cooked and served dinner, and his cousin, Nicole, and Jean — or Nana to a dozen grandchildren — turned the night into a party.
“It was a treat,” said Nicole, 28, also of Brigantine. “I’d walk in and she’d say, ‘Oh, would you like a glass of wine? Michael will get us one.’ She wouldn’t have one by herself, but if I came over, she knew I’d have one with her.”
The Wednesday dinner parties went on at Jean’s for about five years, until just a few weeks before she died last month, at 91. She’d been in mostly good health until Christmas.
Jean was a lucky grandmother: Her personal chef was a real chef. Caulfield, 41, works as a broiler chef at the Palm, the popular Atlantic City steakhouse, and Wednesdays were his night off. But he never minded cooking for his Nana — he knows she did plenty of that for her family.
“You couldn’t get away from her house without eating,” said Caulfield, of Brigantine. “If you were hungry, you were eating. Sometimes even if you weren’t hungry, you were eating.”
And it’s not that the small-town waitress — with five kids — was exactly rich.
“She didn’t have it easy by any means,” said Stephanie Caulfield, 61, Jean’s daughter. “Times were tough, often. She did for us and she did without, so we could get what we needed.”
Jean, an Atlantic City girl who moved to Brigantine in 1960 with her late husband, William, knew hard times in other ways, too. Two of her kids died at about age 40, and sure, that was hard on a mom.
But she lived to appreciate good times. In recent years, one of her great treats was summer Sundays at The Cove, a Brigantine bayfront beach where vehicles are legal. Jean, who never learned to drive, walked all over town for years, but lately, her arthritis stopped that. So going to The Cove let her get to the beach and get her feet back in saltwater.
Her family was part of a group that had beach get-togethers every Sunday. Jacqui Wright, a lifelong family friend, said the party starts with breakfast and goes all day.
“She could stay until sunset,” said Wright, 55. “She got a big kick out of seeing us running around, sharing each other’s food. ... She wasn’t picky — she loved everything we served her.”
After years as a waitress, and cook, you could say she’d earned a little time to relax.
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