Diane MacDonald: A Happy Days Memory

Diane MacDonald

It’s the Pinckney Bakery now, and that is a very fine thing. But with the sudden death of Diane MacDonald, we’ve been reminiscing about a previous occupant of that space, Happy Days Soda Shop, which Diane ran when she was “done with local politics” (not a phase that lasted very long).

Diane was a big deal in little Pinckney. She served as Village Clerk, then Village President, and most recently as Planning Commission Chair. If the village needed a resident to serve on a committee, she was always willing. Everyone knew her. She was smart and funny and stubborn as hell — and had no problem telling you what she really thought about, well, pretty much everything.

Happy Days Soda Shop (photo by Dave Massey)

The soda shop though — that was brilliant. Conceived by Dave Massey (who opened the excellent Blue Martini next door soon after — and checked “own a bar” off his personal bucket list), Diane took over a year later. The shop showcased Diane’s cooking skills and she was smart enough to know how to hit the sweet spot for Pinckney. Burgers, sandwiches, salads and fries — along with a full array of ice cream offerings — made the soda shop the all-ages place to be for the few years she ran it. It was classic, basic food done really well, and Pinckney ate it up. Literally.

My personal favorite? Along with ice cream cones, sundaes and milkshakes, she also offered ice cream sodas. Not just root beer floats, but honest-to-God ice cream sodas that brought back memories of one of my favorite childhood treats growing up in central Pennsylvania.

She really cared about people. My oldest son and about a dozen of his friends had their pre-homecoming dinner there. Diane put a bunch of tables together and let us bring in tablecloths and centerpieces. If I recall correctly, she took orders herself, as if the kids were in a 5-star Michelin Guide restaurant. And I know my child probably ordered the tuna melt, because that was what he ordered every single time we went there. Even now, as we were talking (well, texting) about her passing, he maintained it was the best tuna melt he has ever had — and he lives in New York City, land of delicatessens, so that’s really saying something.

And that was Diane.

Bev Kroll, who worked at the shop, remembers a time when a large group of motorcyclists — over 20 — came in, five minutes before close.

“Bev, we do one at a time, so only look at the person in front of you,” Diane advised, and the line went quickly.

“I use that all the time, take one hour at a time, one day at a time, one issue at a time,” Bev said. “She made you feel so important, like there wasn’t a time she wouldn’t hug you.”

The soda shop was a happening place, even at lunch time, typically a dead-zone in the Pinckney food scene. I remember going there for lunch one day with my kids. While we were eating, one of Pinckney’s Harmless Colorful Characters came in and simply sat in our booth, ordered some lunch (“the usual”), and proceeded to have a wide-ranging, bizarre conversation with us, while blithely ignoring my rather overt hints to find another table. I still recall the wide-eyed “who IS this guy?” looks from my boys.

Well, that’s small town life. It can take you 20 minutes to buy a gallon of milk at Busch’s because half the town is there, and the local weirdos just invite themselves to lunch with you. Diane MacDonald mastered all aspects of small-town living, and gave it all back to the community with an extra scoop of ice cream. So, thanks Diane. Pinckney still misses the soda shop, and will miss your presence now as well.

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Rebecca Foster writes about food, politics, books and whatever has irritated her on any particular day, on her website Usual and Ordinary (www.usualandordinary.com). She is an occasional contributor to The Livingston Post and has remained active in local politics and the community after serving as Pinckney Village President from 2004-2012, and as a trustee currently. She is enjoying empty-nesting in Pinckney with her husband, three cats and a few chickens.