Granite State of Mind, #12: Yoken's, Portsmouth
Some things I love about New Hampshire are no longer there (see: Mountain, Old Man of the) except for in collective memory. One such place is/was Yoken's, the restaurant/gift shop/banquet center that graced Lafayette Road from 1946 to 2004. It was a strange place, a 1950's-era wood-paneled seafood eatery bounded on one side by a sprawling retail store specializing in regional kitsch and on the other by civic meetings and proms and rubber-chicken dinners. I have deep relationships with each wings.
There was a stretch of time growing up when Christmas meant trips to the Yoken's gift shop to find family presents, choosing between porcelain lobsters and stuffed moose puppets and other waiting-to-be-discovered treasures. For this seacoast kid, the Yoken's store seemed endless and personal and an indelible part of the holiday season. As for the banquet hall side, there are two pieces of my soul left behind in the ghost of those walls. My Rotary life began as a member of the Portsmouth club, eating wilted salads once a week. That's where I met Lionel Ingram and Shannon Aldrich and Ben Wheeler and the first spark caught the tinder to set fire to my RYLA life. Those rooms also held several banquets for the Exeter Seahawks youth football program during my tenure as President of the league, and I have nothing but fond memories of junior high kids in badly-knotted ties and untucked dress shirts cheering for each other as their teams were honored.
For many, Yoken's was a landmark for giving directions in typical Yankee style: "if you see the whale sign, you've gone too far." And the sign somehow still survives as a quirky iconic symbol of a bygone age, advertising a place that no longer exists. Yoken's - I still can't say the name without hearing my grandmother's French-Canadian-by-way-of-Dover accent rendering it "Yokum's" - is a sort of password for nativity, a private joke, a family legend. It's weird to think that it's not there any more.
Thar She Blows!