I seat myself at Maggie’s and before I can blink I’m greeted by Sally. “Hi Ken, how are you today,” she asks as she parks a glass of ice water and plops a menu down on the table in front of me. “Good to see you again. Ain’t seen you here in awhile.”
Sally and I attended the same school but she was a grade behind me. I’d gotten to know her throughout high school at parties that sprouted in the woods or at the end of some farmer’s field. These were often attended by bon fires that gave us something to gaze at as we sat around indulging in things that I now try hard to keep my daughter away from. “Hey Sally. I’m doing great. How about you,” I reply. “How’s the world been treating you?”
“I can’t complain. Can I get you something to drink?”
I order a diet coke and scan the restaurant for familiar faces as Sally scurries off. I recognize a lot of the faces but no one is any more than a casual acquaintance. Immediately behind the counter and closest to the cash register are two tables that have been joined together. It wears no sign of ownership, yet somehow it’s always occupied by the very same group of regulars. I suspect that they’ve chosen a table near the front so they can see who comes and goes. In this way, they’re able to add fodder to their conversations. Life in a small farming community holds little excitement.
I usually sit only a couple of tables away from this group of men, partly because I do find their conversation somewhat amusing and partly because, like them, I kind of like to keep my eye on the entrance to see who comes in. I sit in silence as I listen to these old country boys drawl stories out before one another. It’s mildly entertaining to witness the ‘tall tale’ competition that seems to rise from their midst.
Sally’s back to take my order and, knowing full well what I plan to have, starts writing on her little pad. “You want fries with your tenderloin sandwich today,” she asks. I sometimes wonder why she even brings me a menu. As far as I’m concerned there’s only one thing on the menu; pork tenderloin.
“Sure, why not. What’s a few more pound’s gonna hurt?” At this, she smiles.
After a few minutes of mindless gazing I spot my cousin Rod tromping in wearing the usual bib overalls, T-shirt, and duck billed cap. His lips curl into a smile as soon as he sees me. By this time I’m eager for a little conversation of my own and look forward to the visit. It’s always fun to listen to Rod tell stories and it seems as though he entertains himself as much as he entertains others. “Whut the hell you doin here boy?” He opens with the usual greeting.
“Not much man, how you doing,” I reply. We engage each other in small talk, sharing news of extended family when we finally land on his son Kyle. His brown eyes squint as he begins to chuckle. The smile twisting his scruffy beard which acts as though it’s trying hard to point in every possible direction.
“Lissen ta this man, yer gonna love it,” he starts. “That d-mned Kyle an’ Glen took his little ol’ Cavalier up ta Mid America Raceway cuz they were holdin an open track where anybody could sign up ta race.”
“What,” I interrupt. “He took a Cavalier to the racetrack? A little bitty four cylinder. You’re kidding me, right.”
“Hell no, I’m not a kiddin’ ya,” he says through a smile. “All his friends drive these little ol’ cars but they put nitrous kits in ‘em and some of ‘em are pretty darn quick.” We both laugh at the thought. “These d-mned kids wouldn’t know what to do with the old muscle cars we use ta own. Anyway, Kyle got into one of the races and Glen, why he wuz sittin up in the stands a watchin. They was only runnin the quarter. Kyle said he was a runnin down the track an’ he looked up an’ waved at ol’ Glenn a sittin up there.” His head tilted back with laughter and I couldn’t help but laugh along. “Kyle said, sh-t dad, I was goin so slow I’da had time ta read the d-mned newspaper.” At this he laughed harder than before, as did I, not knowing if I was laughing at the story or laughing at the way Rod told it. “That d-mned kid; he’s an ornery little cuss.”
Our laughter finally levels down to a mild ripple. We shared bit more conversation and finally Rod perks up. “Well hell, guess I’d best be goin. Jean’s expectin me at the house. Saw your bike outside an’ figured I’d stop in ta see ya.” He rose from the chair. “You take care of yourself, ya hear?”
“I sure will man. You do the same. Good seein ya again.”
I finish my sandwich, drop a tip on the table and head to the cash register. Other than what’s necessary to conclude the transaction, the cashier and I exchange no words. As I walk out the door I hear Sally. “Bye Ken.” I turn to see her waving. “Sorry I didn’t get to talk to you more. We’ve been kinda busy in here.”
“Hey no problem Sally, take care of yourself. I’ll see you next time.”
I throw on my helmet and fire up my bike. As I head back east on the highway I feel good about the fact that, even though I had to get away from the small town atmosphere, I still maintain a shred of a connection to it.