Dona & Leo

When I said that Rosa was our first introduction to foster care, that was wrong. When I was 20, I started waiting tables at a great little cafe on the Balboa Peninsula, in CA called Britta’s Cafe. The restaurant had only been open about a month when I started working there. Britta’s was opened by a very ambitious 26-year-old, Britta. I loved this job, I loved the fresh food, learning about Italian cuisine for the first time, and taking the ferry to work on the busy weekends.

Balboa Ferry approaching Balboa Peninsula

Britta’s was really a ‘family’ place, with “Grandma” helping out on the weekends, baking her famously delicious apple-pie. Marge, Britta’s Mom also jumped in to lend a hand on the busy weekends. At Britta’s there wasn’t that common divide between the ‘front of the house’ and ‘back of the house’ , we were all close, I think Britta herself was responsible for facilitating this great relationship between her staff. The girls I worked with became lifetime friends, and although I am on the other side of the country now, thanks to facebook, I am able to stay in touch with most of them.

What really made Britta’s special were the customers. Britta’s was a ‘local’ place. Most of our customers lived within walking distance of the restaurant, and we would see some of them up to 3 times a week.

Donna and Leo at a Britta’s Cafe reunion a few years ago.

One couple that came in regularly, Dona and Leo were  everyone’s favorite. Dona and Leo were part of the ‘favorites’, and all the girls wanted to wait on them. They had been married a good many years when I met them, and they had what seemed to be such a great example of what a good marriage is, Dona and Leo truly enjoyed one-another.  I interviewed them once for a school project, and I asked them a few questions about their marriage.  The one thing they said was “Don’t quit, stick through the rough times, work it out”,  those words have resonated with me, and I have carried them with me through my life.

The other thing about Dona and Leo, was that they were foster parents (I heard that to date they have fostered over 50 children).  My first introduction to foster care.  They would come into dine with their ‘babies’. They were such devoted, loving foster parents to all of these children. One child in particular, Tony, stayed with them for two years. Everyone at Britta’s go to know Tony, and watch him grow from an infant into a small boy.  I can still picture those big brown eyes of his.  It was never Dona & Leo’s intention to adopt these children, even back then, they would chuckle and say “Oh no, we are too old” (although they had the energy of people 1/2 their age). They had already raised their own children, and they were doing this with a pure and open heart.

I remember the day I came to work, and learned that Tony had found a permanent home, and he was being adopted. Everyone at Britta’s was sad to know that we wouldn’t be seeing little Tony anymore, some of us girls even cried.  The first few days after Tony joined his new family, we didn’t see Dona and Leo. We were told that they were just heartbroken, and Dona was devastated.  Heartbroken for the absence of little Tony from their lives, but happy that he found a great forever home. After about a week, Dona, and Leo began dining with us again, and then soon after, they arrived with another baby carrier, all I remember of that next baby, was his chubby little face looking up at me, and the smiles!

You may think, oh how sad, they shouldn’t have gotten so attached. No, Dona and Leo did it right! When people ask me “Won’t you be heartbroken when the children are reunited with their families?” I always flash back to Dona and Leo, and how yes, they were sad to see the babies go, and in some case like Tony, even devastated, but they went on to open their hearts 50 more times! and then I reply with  “Yes, yes I will, and if I am not, I didn’t do it right, I didn’t open my heart to them, and let them in”.  I have the best role models for this, I will always think of Dona and Leo, and how they would go on and love another child with an open heart.

Thank you Dona and Leo, for showing me the path to an open heart, and teaching me how to do this thing right! Our first baby should be in our arms by September!

*Britta’s still exists, but has moved locations visit their website here: 

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