“You have no idea what this has meant to me. All these years I never thought you were even interested in what I had to say,” the old man told them.
It’s my get away. You heard me mention it before. My favorite restaurant for a good old clog your heart breakfast of eggs, home fries, and bacon. Oh yes. Whole wheat toast to make it healthy.
I find the most incredible people and stories in restaurants. Think about it. It’s your family dinner table removed from your kitchen and placed in a public area. Like home, but better. Somebody else is cooking and doing the dishes.
So scattered all around me are families having dinner, friends catching up with the latest news, business meetings and people like me just there to relax. Oh, of course. Great conversation.
Except in the booth across from me. Silence.
When I first sat down there two men sitting together quietly. One man appeared to be in his thirties. He was dressed in some old work clothes and still wearing his baseball cap. The other man I would guess was about 80. He had the most incredible face. The lines and creases gave him character. His white hair was messy from wearing a stocking cap he held on top of the table. He wore one of those red plaid shirt jackets that you might see on a construction worker. Heavy enough to keep you warm while you’re moving about, but not too bulky to limit your movement.
But he didn’t look like he was going any where. Neither was this conversation.
“Boy, I really worked up a hunger today, Pop. All that shoveling and sweeping the snow will do that,” the younger man said.
“Yeah, this is somethin’,” replied the old man.
Silence followed for the longest time.
Suddenly I heard the young man say, “Here they come,” as he pointed toward the doorway.
He almost looked relieved. Somebody who would join in and help get this conversation going.
It appeared to me that the two people who joined them were a mother and teenage grandchild. The woman sat next to the younger man and Pop stood up to let the grandchild slide in place.
“Hello, Dad. Good to see you!” she said as she sat down.
“Yep!” the old man replied.
Silence. Even longer gaps than before.
“I feel real good,” the old man said proudly.
“Oh, you look good Dad,” the younger man said. Then one by one the others agreed.
The waitress approached and took their breakfast orders.
Grandpa excused himself. “Gotta go to the bathroom. It happens a lot when you’re old,” he said.
As soon as he was out of sight, the younger man said, “God, I don’t know what to say to him. We just sit here looking around. He never talks.”
“I know what you mean. God what do you say?” the woman added.
“He’s old. What do you talk about with an old man?” the kid joined in.
Oh, no. Here I go. I can’t just sit here and listen to this. I’m going to say something, swallow hard and wait to see if they tell me it’s none of my business.
“Ask him about his childhood,” I said as I continued eating.
“What? Pardon me? Were you talking to us, sir?” the woman asked.
“Yes. It’s really not my business, I know. But do you realize what he has to offer you? Can you even begin to understand what this man has seen in his lifetime? He most likely has answers to problems you haven’t even discovered as problems in your life. He’s a gold mine!” I said.
“Look, talk to him about his childhood. Ask him what the snows were like back then. He’ll have a million stories to share. He’s not talking because no one is asking,” I told them.
Just then he came walking around the corner.
“Oh, boy. I feel much better now. You know I haven’t been goin’ good in a while,” the old man told them.
They all turned and looked at me. I shrugged my shoulders. Okay. So old people also talk about the facts of life. And going or not going is a major thing when you’re old. You take the good with the bad.
After a long silence the young girl said, “Paw Paw. When you were a kid were the snows this bad?”
“Gees, honey. This is nothing like the snows I had when I was a kid. Did I ever tell you about the snow storm that covered my house?” he asked.
“No, Pop. I don’t think I ever heard that one myself,” said the younger man.
Now for the next twenty minutes the old man was in his glory. At one point he even stood up to show them how high the one snow drift was. Throughout the entire meal everyone chimed in with more questions. They laughed and he lit up like he was on stage and the play he was acting in was his life story.
Just as I was about to leave I heard the old man say, “You have no idea what this has meant to me. All these years I never thought you were even interested in what I had to say.”
“Oh….. well, I guess we just didn’t think you wanted to talk,” the woman said.
“Well nobody bothered to ask me anything. I just figured I was boring or somethin. It’s been a tough life you know. Ever since Ma Ma died I really had nothing to say.” He paused for a moment. I could see him nervously wringing his rough life worn hands together.
“You see, her and I were like a song. I made the music and she…she was the words,” he said.
Like tough guys of his time are supposed to do, he held back any visible emotion, sniffled and wiping his eye he said, “No sense talkin’ if you ain’t got the words.”
As I turned to walk away I looked across the table. I saw the young girl wave and smile at me as she put her arm around Paw Paw’s shoulders.
She didn’t have to say a word.
Source: Bob Perks © 2001. Used with permission