The Story Behind The Smile


Every weekend, a familiar crowd of people make their way in and out of the Cloverleaf restaurant on Liberty Street in downtown Ann Arbor. Mary Smiley, a waitress at the Cloverleaf, asks how many people are in the party. She smiles, picks up the corresponding amount of menus, and takes them to an empty table. The customers that come in and out are usually not strangers. They are regulars that know their waitress well. What they don’t all know is why she chose to work at the Clover Leaf.

Well, here’s why.

Because when she was nine, her mother committed suicide by overdosing on sleeping pills.

Because she lived in an emptied out school bus for five years with her siblings and her father, who didn’t believe in traditional schooling and was hooked on marijuana.

Because she got pregnant before she could live out her dream of moving to France and learning the language. She married a man she didn’t really love because she wanted to start a family. “Those were my favorite years of my life, when I had kids,” Smiley said. She and her husband then moved to Georgia to be with her husband’s brother because their home was being foreclosed on.

Because after she had four kids she decided she wasn’t going to be with a man who she didn’t want to spend the rest of her life with. She got a divorce that didn’t work out the way she had hoped. Her husband took the kids and moved to Michigan, so she tried to move on with someone else, but it only got worse from there.

Because when she escaped the bad relationship she started drinking and got pregnant again, but this time got an abortion.

Because when she moved to Ann Arbor she was broken. “I was seriously depressed and alcohol was the only thing that made me feel okay,” Smiley said.

Because she needed to get a job and get back on her feet, and have a healthy relationship with her children, “I’ve been in rehab six times, finally now I have a relationship with them, but it’s taken this long and I missed their teenage years.”

So she now works weekends at the Cloverleaf Restaurant, and works across the street at Avalon Cafe and Kitchen during the week. “I’m happy right now and I like my life and I’m willing to work everyday and I want a relationship with my kids,” Smiley said. She still struggles with alcohol addiction, but she has made an immense amount of progress. Her son just had a baby, so now she is a proud grandmother who wants to save up money to go visit the new baby.

The customers that come in and out may never get to know her story. They may never understand that her smile is one of heartbreak, struggle and perseverance.