I had to go in this afternoon to Corydon to sign my taxes, and after talking over an hour and a half with the preparer, who is 65, and her husband, my former mailman, 73, I left.
My stomach growled, and I thought about eating in town. I had planned to shop, but payday isn't until next Friday, so waiting other than for milk and bread sounded like a good idea. Mad Birthday Money in hand, courtesy of sister B., I found myself turning the corner at a local high-priced steak house.
My waiter was a tall, high school age blond boy, good looking, attentive, dressed in the mandatory black shirt, but in black bermudas and sockless tennies underneath it. As he seated me, he told me his name, but in the hubbub of the packed house, I missed it, as my back was to him by then. I think I half lip read most of the time when the background noise is chaotic. He offered to bring something from the bar, but did not falter when I requested ice water. I ordered a medium rare $15.95 sirloin with baked potato, butter, and sour cream, and hit the salad bar.
The by-play among the staff was interesting. As youngsters, my sisters and I indulged in people-watching, inventing elaborate back stories for the conversational tidbits drifting around, (a past time I truly thought we'd invented until I heard it referred to in one of Simon and Garfunkel's songs) but in a small town, the game changes. When you know too many of the players, guessing is clouded by real knowledge.
A., a former student, came up as I was returning, modest sized salad in hand, saying she only worked here one night a week -- Saturday. I'd been in on a Tuesday, one of two or three tables boasting customers, and a Friday last year, with a few more full, but it was bumper to bumper tonight.
I watched A. hustle from the far corner back to the bar, really putting herself into doing a good job. She'd sure plumped up since graduating, but other wait persons deferred to her. When the phone rang, the waitress fielding the call checked with A. before taking a patron the phone. Another young waiter stepped back to allow her to pass with a tray laden with drinks for the far corner table, which included another Seymour teacher, Mr. L., who does English and the newspaper/yearbook.
Lettuce, (no tomato available,) ranch, a dab of ham diced to the size of the tip of a lead pencil, hard boiled egg chunks and bread croutons went down well.
I'd just gotten a good start on my salad when A. approached her boss behind the counter and inquired about the meals for two at one of her tables, which she'd put in at 6:31 (I'd entered slightly after 7, as Thistle and Shamrock had just come on WOI-fm, which is doing a fundraiser, so might be off a bit.)
Faced with a 30 minute wait, I slowed down, stretching that lettuce salad as long as possible. A Mennonite family of middle aged man, wife in a white see-through lace cap, and young son decked out in a cowboy hat, was joined by an elderly couple (also Mennonite, possibly related) at the next table. The waitress was looking around for a chair to steal to seat them. I signaled to her and pointed to the closest one at my table, which vanished to accommodate the husband (grandfather?) I was surprised when she didn't think to take the silver with her, nor did she return for it. Weird.
Deciding a dab of potato salad, cole slaw and cottage cheese might ease the wait, I stood and as I passed, heard "Grandfather" lament his lack of silverware. I pointed to my table and offered the three place settings there, as if he waited for a server, his food might be cold... Laughing, slightly amazed to find himself addressing a strange English woman in public, he thanked me and retrieved two sets, offering one to his wife.
A familiar looking lady rounded the corner of the salad bar, a full plate in her hand. Her eyes lit up, and I knew I was in trouble. She looked familiar, but I could not pull a name out of my hat, and she was obviously going to speak.
She pointed to her daughter, whom I instantly recognized, and said they were celebrating her birthday. Breathing a sigh of relief, I took a wild guess.
"Ah, I'm lucky I was even THAT close. I lose track. I turned 61 last Monday."
Jody's senior year, she'd made a "class" pink angel food cake in honor of the proximity of our birthdays, as at the time, I couldn't have chocolate, much as I loved it. Her whole group were top students, and a joy to have in class.
As I passed the Mennonite table again, I noticed that "grandfather's" wife already had a set of silver open beside her, and the new one her husband had given her in her hand. I smiled and nodded, pleased that he'd thought to provide for her. Better too much than too little.
I'd no sooner begun on the potato salad when A.'s two guys got served. Right behind their server, whose airplane propeller beanie was twirling madly with the force of his stride, came the blond, taller, hatless server with MY order.
Everything was perfect. My waiter refilled my water glass, and due to the overcrowding, began to fill out the checks for his customers on occasion at my table, as the bar was full of people waiting for empty tables.
We'd chat. I told him it was my birthday celebration, as I'd turned 61 last Monday. He nodded, and carefully explained "I'd sing, but I can't carry a tune."
I didn't realize that this restaurant had singing waiters, so I laughed, "I know how that goes -- we sing it in Spanish, and we don't sound too good a lot of the time, either." Blond bus boy looked over as I spoke, but I didn't think anything of it.
He then told me politely, "You look young for your age."
Ah, that boy is going to go far... far, I predict! The compliment was totally uncontrived in its sincerity and delivery. He couldn't have been cuter. I'd forgotten his name, even though he'd told me as he sat me, but I had trouble hearing, since the conversational hubbub was tremendous, removing one of my prime enjoyments of eating out in close quarters -- eavesdropping on the daily details of stranger's lives.
The Mennonites were closest, but I didn't get a word. I'm not even sure if they were conversing among themselves in English or German.
His next trip by was to be sure everything was fine, and I requested more ice water at his leisure, as I was below half. He smoothly delivered, fielding several other requests with the water pitcher in hand. He stopped back to finish the bill for one double table, and I decided to ask his name, as the light was behind him, and the badge pointed down, so was unreadable.
"How pretty, and unique. Is it a family name, or did your mother just like the name?"
"My FATHER heard it someplace and liked the sound of it." That gorgeous smile again. His eyes twinkled as he related more about having an unusual first name in an area of the world still dominated by Steve's, Tom's and Derek's.
When I was just a bit further than half done, Propeller Beanie set down a HUGE plate of ribs at the seat in front of Tate. His eyes grew wide, and, hand on the back of the chair, he inquired incredulously, "Is that MINE? I have no memory of ordering THAT."
Frantically, his eyes scanned the room. Noting that the place setting for that spot was one the Mennonite had borrowed, I reached across and slid the last unused one over so it rested beside the plate. Tate's eyes were wild. He was in distress.
Moving the chair, he reached for the plate.
"MIght as well join me." I joked.
He regained his equilibrium and served the ribs to the man sitting, back to me, at the next table. His tiny, gray haired wife smiled at me. I think she enjoyed the whole byplay, but I'm not sure she could hear the conversation any better than I could hear what went on at other tables. Why would Beanie Boy serve an empty seat with no silver? That made no sense to me.
As I finished my steak, Tate came over, setting a plate with two small scoops of ice cream drizzled with a small dab of chocolate syrup and a dollop of whipped cream off to the side by my left hand, then joined Blond Bus Boy standing behind Mr. Missing Spare Ribs's chair. Glancing uneasily at each other, BBB and Tate broke into the standard tune for "Happy Birthday". They sang very softly, embarrassed, backs to the packed room, crammed into that tiny area nearly touching they were so close to each other. I smiled at them and thanked them, then pointed Jodi out, telling them it was her birthday, and she was one of my former students.
Tate asked BBB whose table that one was. "We'll wait until they're done," he explained.
In a slack time, Blond Bus Boy came back, telling me he was a Spanish II student. I immediately switched languages, and he followed the conversation. "Feliz cumpleaños," he grinned. Ah, another charmer. I pointed Jodi out, and suggested he talk to her in Spanish, telling him she was one of my former Spanish students, going clear to Spanish IV. I told him she was now a big bad 24. It looked as if, among the three pushed together tables full of celebrants, she had a boyfriend, and the local sheriff, in full uniform, obviously not going home to change so as not to miss this. I felt glad for her, as I knew her brother had died as a 9th grader in a car wreck, and dad was also no longer in the picture (dead or divorced, I can't remember, but mom was raising them alone.)
BBB rehearsed his line after a group of four or five sang to Jodi. "I sound much better in a group," he cheerfully reported. "Feliz cumpleaños, amiga Jodi," and bustled right over.
Soon he was back to let me know he'd done it.
I confided to him in Spanish that he ought to tell his teacher to give him some extra credit for willingly volunteering to use his Spanish in public. (And to an "older" woman, at that!)
As I got ready to leave, I slipped over to congratulate Jodi in person, then bumped into Tate again, and got the name of the loquacious Bus Boy. I decided to email his Spanish teacher, whom he praised as being so bubbly that she made the class fun, suggesting extra credit. If nothing else, it will be a good joke she'll enjoy. If her classes are like mine, the student will be pleased to be able to report USING his Spanish in the workplace. (Not the norm in a "white bread" town. Our whole county boasts 6 Hispanics, a Ukrainian family, and one Chinese for minorities... as of the last census. Somehow the adopted ones don't seem to count. We have four more Russians adopted by a family, one teacher on staff who was adopted from Korea, and a doctor's daughter who came originally from Guatamala that pop into my mind right off. We used to have a woman who married a Filipino, but both husband and son are no longer in town, etc.)