It's my hideaway. You've 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.
Scattered all around me were the usual crowd—families having dinner, friends catching up with the latest news, business people making deals, all in animated conversation.
Except in the booth across from me. Silence.
When I first sat down, two men were sitting together quietly. One appeared to be in his thirties. He was dressed in some old work clothes and still wearing his baseball cap. The other man was, I would guess, 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 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 the young man said, "Here they come," as he pointed toward the doorway.
He looked relieved. Somebody who would join in and help get this conversation going.
The two people who joined them appeared to be a mother and teenage granddaughter. The woman sat next to the younger man and Pop stood up to let the girl 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. What do you say?" the woman added.
"He's old. What do you talk about with an old man?" the girl joined in.
Oh, no. Here I go, I thought. I can't just sit by quietly. 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? He’s seen so much in his lifetime. He most likely has answers to problems you haven't even discovered yet. He's a goldmine!" I said.
They looked at me, probably stunned at my interruption. Silence again.
"Look, just talk to him about his childhood. Ask him what the snows were like back then. He'll have stories to share, I guarantee. 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. I haven’t been goin’ good for 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, "Grandpa, when you were a kid, were the snows this bad?"
"Gee, honey. This is nothing like the snows I had when I was a kid. Did I ever tell you about the snowstorm 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 20 minutes the old man was in his glory. At one point he even stood up to show them how high the one snowdrift 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. It's been a tough life, you know. Ever since your mom died I had no one to talk to." He paused for a moment. I could see him nervously wringing his 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, but added, "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 her grandfather’s shoulders.
She didn't have to say a word.