Somewhere in Alabama. It’s an old cafe. The coffee cups are bottomless. The waitress wears jeans. On the walls are mounted bass and a few buck heads.
There are old men in the corner, seated around a table with mugs. These are rural men with old-world accents like your granddaddy probably had.
They are discussing crucial topics like:
“Hey, Charlie! Got a question for you. What the heck was the guy’s name who used to date Sharon? You know, he had the big ears and always looked like he’d just sucked a lemon?”
They say things like:
“Did you hear Marilyn’s son built his house with the kitchen window facing his mama’s kitchen window so in the mornings they can wave to each other when they make coffee?”
“Looks like Mike is running for mayor again, can you believe it? That streaking thing is gonna come back to bite him, just watch.”
These are the conversations you hear from old men with rural sensibilities.
Their reparte doesn’t follow one line of thought. One man says something. A man across from him says something unrelated. Everyone gets a turn.
Round and round it goes, until you realize they aren’t actually talking to each other. They are simply reporting their random neural firings.
A young couple walks into the restaurant. The young man wears a work jacket and boots. He has a baby-carrier by the handle. The young woman is holding his arm.
They are both so young they still squeak when they walk. They sit in the booth behind mine.
“What time do you have to go back to work?” the girl asks her young man.
“As soon as we’re done eating,” he says. “I’m sorry, I wish I had longer today.”
She seems disappointed. Nobody wants Daddy to work so much.
They order burgers and fries. The waitress doesn’t need a notepad to take their order. She says to the young man. “How’s your mama doing, John?”
John says, “Oh, she has her good days and bad days.”
“I need to stop by and visit her this week,” the waitress says.
It isn’t long before the baby begins to cry. I’m talking a bona fide conniption fit. The baby is flailing arms and screaming loud enough to rattle the ceiling vents.
The mother holds the baby, but can’t seem to get him to quiet. She becomes flustered, she’s embarrassed.
“I’d better take him outside,” the young mother says.
“No,” John says. “Give him to me.”
The mother hands the baby over. I can see she is tired. It’s a deep tiredness. It looks like she could use a massage and a long Carnival cruise ship ride.
The baby is not calming down. So the waitress comes from the kitchen. She makes a beeline for the young man, arms wide open.
“Bless that little heart,” the waitress says, taking the baby from the young man so he can eat his food.
The child stops crying. Our waitress has the touch of a pro. She kisses the baby, and carries the child all over the restaurant.She introduces the newborn to every table of customers, even my table.
The kid’s name is Bradley. That’s a good strong name, if you ask me. You wouldn’t want to fool with a guy named Bradley.
Next, she takes Bradley to the table of old men. Their general conversation fades when the see the child, and the elderly men transform into granddaddies.
An old man in suspenders takes the baby. He is pressing his nose on the newborn’s forehead, and explaining the rules of life.
Then an elderly man in a Bass Pro Shop cap steals Bradley. Now, Bradley is in his arms and he is speaking to the child in a sing-songy voice. “Who’s a good little boy?”
In a few moments, the entire table of men has become enchanted with this infant. They are gathered in a big circle around him as though Bradley was just found lying in a manger.
The waitress refills the young mother’s glass of iced tea. She finds the young woman is sleeping on her young man’s shoulder.
“Bless her,” whispers the waitress to the man.
“Yeah,” the young man says. “This is the first time she’s slept all week.”
The waitress smiles. “Poor thing.”
The young man reaches for his wallet. “I’ll take our bill, I gotta hurry.”
The waitress waves him off. “You’re money’s no good here, sweetie.” She takes his empty plate and heads for the kitchen.
“Seriously?” he says. “Thank you.”
“Don’t thank me, honey. Thank the old dudes who are trying to kidnap your baby.”
You’re in good hands, Bradley.