All those years, and still laughing at those old stories

Friday, December 7, 2012

I don't know who the six women and one man sitting at a nearby table in a local restaurant were. I could tell, however, that they had known each other a long, long time.

There were clues. The soft ringlets of white hair still showing the effects of last week's visit to the beauty shop -- the church hair look. And their ease at making conversation, often trading information in ways that old friends do -- fewer words, more meaning. And their genuine, easy smiles -- none of that polite head nodding that strangers do to each other.

The gentleman in the group rarely said a word. He came for the food -- the special was roast chicken and dressing. While the women gabbed and ate, he took a serious interest in the soft, warm biscuit and the hard, almost frozen butter -- not a good combination when your fingers are gnarled with arthritis. Besides, he couldn't hear a thing -- which, in his case, might have been counted as a blessing, considering he had no interest in girl talk.

One of the women sat at the far end of the table, removed from the rest by an empty chair and the width of the table. She did not participate in the sly stories the other women were telling -- about each other, and about absent acquaintances. Sometimes this woman appeared to show a bit of disapproval at what was being said. Perhaps she thought it was too much gossip. Or too inappropriate. She heard -- we all did -- when one of the other women dropped her napkin for the third time. "Oh, sugar!" she snarled as she groped on the floor under her chair. "I heard that," said the lonely woman. "I know what you meant." My guess is that "darn," "drat" and "doggone" also are unacceptable in her vocabulary.

That was the extent of the lonely woman's participation until near the end of the meal, when everyone was sated with good food and that last bite of biscuit sopping up a bit of leftover gravy. The lonely woman barely touched her food until nearly everyone else was done. One of the chatty women asked, "Is their something wrong with your dinner?" Yes, she replied. It's gone cold. The questioner cupped her hands around her mouth and said something to the other women, who all broke out in a cackle.

I'm not great at guessing how old someone is, but I'm pretty sure everyone in this group could tell you their personal memories of the attack on Pearl Harbor. Seventy-one years is a long, long time, But all time is relative.

One of the women said everyone should head for the little girls' room, because the shuttle van was due soon. I followed them out to the cashier fully aware this might take awhile. I assumed -- correctly -- that there would not be one check. And that no credit cards would be whipped out. Each person carefully dug through coin purses looking for exact change. "Do you have three more pennies?" one asked. She wasn't talking to me, but I instinctively dug into my pocket. I found keys, cellphone and cough drops. No pennies.

When the shuttle van arrived, it was emblazoned with the name of St.-Something-Or-Other in suburban St. Louis. I imagined they must be on their way to a religious shrine, or maybe our new casino.

So I asked.

"We're going to Memphis," one of the women said. "To Graceland."

I would have guessed a lot of other points of interest before thinking of Elvis. But even the quiet man in the group perked up. "Blue Suede Shoes!" He said, smiling through the false teeth rocking on his gums. "Let's go, girls!"

Off they went, in search of memories and good times.

You go, girls.

And you, sir, you go too. Have a blast.

Joe Sullivan is the retired editor of the Southeast Missourian.

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