Baton Rouge. Waffle House. Supper time. I see him in the corner. He’s middle-aged. A little silver in his hair. He’s sitting with his son who is maybe 5. His son plays on an iPad quietly.
The man is guzzling coffee by the metric ton. He looks nervous. He’s wearing normal clothes. Levi’s. Tucked-in shirt. Square-toe boots. The uniform of the rural man.
George Strait is singing overhead. A few road-weary truckers sitting at the bar are about to fall face-first into their grits.
Then she walks in.
Everyone sees her. She is the same age as Mister Levi’s. She is brunette. She is wearing a work uniform. She evidently works at Walmart, or the DG, or some other store where you can buy romaine lettuce and 10-W 30 motor oil in the same establishment.
He stands when he sees her enter. He is definitely nervous. You can tell by the way he’s rocking on his feet. He nudges his boy.
The boy puts down the iPad and stands.
They both greet the woman like proper gentlemen. Long live Chivalry.
I get the feeling that if these weren’t Waffle House booths, the man would pull out the chair for this woman.
They shake hands.
So cordial. Strangers, apparently. The man introduces her to his son. And that’s when I notice the baby carrier beside him in the booth. I couldn’t see it before. But I see it now. There is a kid in the carrier.
The man introduces her to both kids. It’s an awkward introduction. But sweet. The woman sits across from the man and his two kids.
They are definitely strangers, I’m thinking. Otherwise she would be sitting with one of the kids. Instead, the man is squeezed into the booth with a son and a baby carrier. She sits all by herself.
She orders orange juice.
He orders chocolate milk for his boy.
I am watching their mannerisms. I am not the smartest spoon in the drawer, but I know when two people are on a date. These people are on a date. A first date, I’d guess. At Waffle House.
I have been writing this column for a decade now. I have written a gajillion columns on Waffle House. I have a soft spot for America’s abode of waffles. This is a gift from the column gods.
I overhear the introductions. She’s from Georgia, originally. She’s going to LSU. She went back to school as a 36-year-old. Wants to study law. Real estate law.
He’s from a little town outside Red Stick. A sugar cane farmer. His wife is dead. He tells her he brought both kids tonight because he wanted to be upfront on their first date. He wants her to know that his kids are the most important part of his life. And they are a package deal.
She nods. She gets it. She knows he’s a widower. She wasn’t born yesterday, she’s telling him. If she wasn’t interested she wouldn’t be here.
So do I.
“How are you handling day-to-day life without your wife?” the woman asks.
It’s a fair question. She’s not delving too deeply into his business, but she’s asking about domestic practicalities because—this is not a sexist remark—she is a woman.
How is he handling changing diapers? Preparing lunches for school? How about laundry? How about grocery shopping? Is he managing? Is life a complete mess?
“It’s really hard,” he admits. “But we’re doing the best we can.”
He does too.
So do I.
“I know you must miss her,” she says.
He nods. But he holds it together. He tells her he’s ready to start dating again. His kids need a mom. And he’s not able to be a single dad. His parents are dead. He has no support system. He’s lost.
Soon, they are over the awkward hump. They are laughing. They are telling stories. They are getting along. They’re eating bacon and eggs. If I had to guess, just going by their body language, I’d say they’re hitting it off.
They stay for a long time. They drink a lot of coffee. Before they leave, he picks up the bill. She offers to pay, but she’s all hat and no cattle.
Like I said. Chivalry.
They walk out of the establishment. They are standing on the sidewalk. Still talking. He’s holding the baby carrier. His son is standing close by him.
They’re still laughing and chatting.
Finally, they shake hands. So formal. The date is officially over. She hesitates. Then, she leans over and kisses his cheek.
He is somewhat stupefied.
She leaves him by trotting across the parking lot to her car. He just watches her go. He stands on the sidewalk while her Nissan eases out of the parking area. Tail lights blaring.
The kid plays on his iPad. The baby in the carrier is fast asleep.
The man is still touching his cheek. He’s smiling.
And so am I.
Hawk - April 24, 2023 9:59 am
I am 76, and I found the true love of my life February a year ago. More importantly, she did too.
stephenpe - April 24, 2023 11:21 am
Hope springs eternal. As long as you have hope you have life. Lewis is smiling down on you, Sean, Thanks for making my coffee and biscotti better this morning.
Richard Owen - April 24, 2023 1:12 pm
Sean, you put into words what I try and capture with my cameras. Thanks for being so observant when others see nothing.
Dee Thompson - April 24, 2023 2:16 pm
I truly wish them well. However, if she’s a working college student or law school student she will have very little spare time to be a wife and/or mom. I was a working student for three years and there were few days when I had more than an hour when I wasn’t working or studying or in class. Said a prayer just now that man will find the right lady, whether it’s her or someone else.
pattymack43 - April 24, 2023 10:14 pm
I really do love the way you observe people! you notice ALL of them – the visible and the invisible – right into their hearts and souls. Thank you for sharing all that you “observe”!!