It has been a week of strangely memorable but unimportant encounters. Monday, I went to McDonald’s to get lunch. My original plan was to go to Subway, but the line was long, and my patience short. Business was brisk under the Golden Arches, too, but the long line was in the drive-thru lane. Inside, the place was nearly empty.
A young lady took my order. If she wasn’t a teenager, she was an extremely well-preserved twenty-something. Monday must have been the first time she had been allowed to fly solo on the cash register. She stood up straight, in the way people do when they are trying to stand up straight. Her shoulders were back, and her fingers were on the register, ready to put my order into the system the moment I responded to, “May I take your order?”
She was very careful as she pressed the register’s keys, and there was a hint of uncertainty in everything she did. She asked all the required questions: Did I want to make it a meal? Would that be for here or to-go? Between questions, she’d look at that checklist in her mind and put an “X” by the step she’d just completed, and then see what she was to do next. After handing me my change and receipt, she assembled the order. It wasn’t much, just a chicken sandwich and a milk shake.
“There you are, sir, everything in one bag,” she said, setting the order on the counter. She also served up a wonderful smile that said, “Tada!” “Thank God I didn’t mess that up,” and “I think I’m getting the hang of this,” all at once. The smile on that girl was so very familiar. It took a while, but on my way back to Covenant Woods, I realized that her proud smile is the same proud smile Bethany flashes. And then I smiled a big smile, too.
Tuesday morning, while circling Covenant Woods, I spotted William. “Good morning,” I said, and he grunted. That was all. Strange, most of the time William is the guy whom the phrase coiner had in mind when he came up with “motor mouth.” Maybe it had something to do with me calling to complain about him and Richie getting boisterous Saturday night. William went down the path to Piggly-Wiggly, and I continued my inspection of the grounds. Twenty minutes later, as I was making another trip through the parking lot behind Building C, William was coming back.
“Hey, Tom,” he said in his loud, friendly voice. “How are you? Getting your exercise, I see. We’ve got to get you some gloves and a hat. It’s going to start getting pretty cold here.”
Why the sudden transformation from sullen and standoffish to hail fellow well met? Was he holding the reason in his left hand? Was the answer in the plastic grocery bag straining to hold the 24-pack of Coors? I bet it was.
That night at dinner, Evelyn came over, put her hand on my shoulder and said to Corrine, who was sitting across the table, “I love this man.” The man shuddered. Evelyn is temperamental, opinionated, vengeful and doesn’t handle disappointment well. She and William no longer see each other except to argue. And argue they did the other night in the lobby. According to usually reliable sources, a resident who has been here only a short time became so concerned he called the police. Three of Columbus’ finest answered the call.
I need not have worried. After listing my strong points – there were only two of them: a sense of humor and a pleasant smile – Evelyn talked about her husband.
“He was a wonderful. He was the kindest, most considerate person I ever knew,” she said. “I’ve been a widow for forty years, and I’ve never met his equal. I’m not looking for another man, because I’ll never find another man like him.”
Sometimes it’s a relief to be found inadequate.
Hayden spent Tuesday at Grandma’s, and Debbie was kind enough to invite me to Skype and watch him eat breakfast. Hayden was in his high chair, as he always is when I Skype to Orofino. But the shadows were more pronounced Tuesday, and I wasn’t able to see what Hayden was wearing. My concern for fashion being what it is, it didn’t make any difference until Beth called the next afternoon.
“Did you notice the shirt he had on?” she asked.
“No. The light wasn’t very good.”
“It was one of the shirts you got him for his birthday,” she said. “He looks so cute in it. And his favorite book is one you sent him a couple months ago; the alphabet book with the tools.”
There was one very happy grandpa in Columbus, Georgia, that afternoon.
After I talked to Beth, I went to the dining room and played Name That Tune. All the music was from the fifties and sixties. I was first to name seven of the songs and finished in second place. Jim, who was a disc jockey during those years, was the first to name twelve tunes and claimed the title. He probably would have been first every time if he hadn't opted to give the rest of us a chance. And I owe my second-place finish to Annie. She works in the activities department and couldn't play, but she did blurt out some answers. There was no sense wasting them.
I saw all of Covenant Woods for the first time Friday afternoon. Every third day or so, Penelope prints up “Town Talk,” a flyer with the schedule of upcoming activities. A resident whom I’ve never seen distributes them, slipping one under the door of each apartment. But she was unable to make her appointed rounds Friday, and I was asked to pinch hit.
I quickly realized that once you’ve seen one Covenant Woods’ hallway, you’ve seen them all. That’s hardly surprising, but it can be darn confusing. I’d come to the end of one hallway, look down the next and wonder if I had been there or not. Then I’d nonchalantly meander into it to see if there were any “Town Talks” sticking from beneath the doors. I haven’t heard any complaints yet, but chances are I missed a few people and gave two to a few others.
I also had a writing job this week. Eleanor, who lives in one of the cottages, asked me to write a limerick to thank Roger, the general manager, and Johnny, the maintenance supervisor, for getting rid of tree stump in her yard. I was on my way to deliver my literary masterpiece Saturday when I saw Eleanor in pursuit of Buster, her yappy Chihuahua. Once Buster was corralled, I gave Eleanor the limerick. She seemed pleased and said she was going to present to Roger and Johnny on Monday. I suppose I’ll find out then if they appreciated it.
Back inside, Irene, the head of housekeeping, slapped me with another speeding ticket. The joke has been going on for a few weeks, and I have accumulated over a thousand dollars in fines.
“But I’m a poor retired guy on a fixed income,” I said.
“I don’t care. You were speeding.”
“But I’ve been doing community service,” I said. “Doesn’t that count for something?”
“What community service?”
“I delivered Town Talk and wrote a limerick for Eleanor.”
“OK. But don’t let me catch you speeding again.”
It was a good week. The best I’ve had here.