Tuesday, June 8, 2010

In through the Out Door

On Saturday mornings I breakfast away from the house. I hike to the corner with a pocketful of change and buy one of the two daily newspapers in New London County (we get the other one delivered to the house) square the block back to the house and head for the Golden Arches.

Ours, much like yours, is not at all like the one in the TV commercials with fresh-faced young people eager to serve customers behind sparkling clean counters where every order appears like magic, piping hot and steamy, in seconds. The folks behind the registers, like those of us wandering towards them, are still half-asleep and transitioning from a dream world to the real one and not making a very good job of it.

When I was a kid, none of these places served breakfast-that was a meal your mom made for you and you ate it at home (after all, didn't she always say 'breakfast is the most important meal of the day'?), but for the last decade or more, the pace and rate of life in these United States has changed so much we load up on empty calories wherever we can get them, and for a lot of the fast-food establishments the breakfast meal is a huge profit center.

There's always a line inside though on a weekend where the temperatures touched ninety degrees and the humidity was so high you were sweating just thinking about the heat, no one really minded standing in the air-conditioned indoors watching the condensation from the outdoors build up on the windows. None of us were in any particular hurry to go back out into it.

I grabbed my grub, found a seat at a small table still large enough so I could spread out my newspaper while eating breakfast and was probably about half way through when I felt eyes on me over my right shoulder. Looking up slowly, I was about fifteen feet across the restaurant from a blue-eyed boy, head full of wild blond hair, maybe eighteen months old (I'm not good at guessing ages and weights, so running away to join the carnival is one less career option) who was looking at me, then quickly looking away only to look at me again. Peek-a-boo.

I like to think of myself as good with kids (I'm not, as I fear our two would quickly tell you if asked, so don't ask, please; but I like to think I am) so I, too, started to play the game, all the while smiling with what I hoped was a reassuring grin though I've been told by some it is anything but. I feared that might be the case when a woman (I refuse to tell you what I guessed her age to be but it didn't reflect her being the mother of a child) came towards me to apologize for Derek, or Daniel or David (the name started with a D, that's about all I got out of it) who explained that perhaps the child was taken by my resemblance to her brother, his uncle, Paul.

That was a name that resonated because my mother's youngest brother's name was Paul. He died decades ago, and far too soon, from an illness I was always a little fuzzy about. He and his family had moved to the West Coast when I was in my early teens (= a very long time ago) and I hadn't thought of him or them for at least thirty years until that moment. I do remember as a child fighting fiercely with Paul, whenever we visited Grandma and Grampy (my mother's folks), whom I resembled right down to the constellation of freckles.

I looked into the woman's face but saw no resemblance between she and me, leading me to wonder (to myself) how I could remind her of her late brother or her son of his uncle, especially, as she added since her brother had been killed in Iraq in 2003. My math skills are never regarded as mad, but are certainly good enough to have computed that the woman's son had never laid eyes on her brother, at least not in this life.

I offered condolences, more to make conversation than anything else, and said I hadn't realized the war in Southeast Asia had consequences this close to home which is when she explained that she and her son weren't from here, but passing through heading for home in New Hampshire. She apologized again. I wished them a safe trip and she returned to her table to pack her child up and get ready to leave. Holding him on her left arm as she walked towards the door, I smiled as he waved goodbye to me and, realizing I'll next see him in another life, if at all, I waved so long, but not farewell, to him.
-bill kenny

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