I am in a coffee shop. I’m trying to get some work done, tapping away on my laptop. The two old women behind me are playing cards, talking louder than jayvee football coaches at football camp.
It’s impossible to get anything done with their noisy conversation.
“So how do you like your new phone?” bellows one old lady.
“I love it,” shouts her friend. “It’s just like my old phone, but this one’s gray.”
“That’s nice. My phone is gray, too.”
“I like gray.”
“Gray is a good color.”
“It really is a good color.”
“I like gray better than mauve.”
“My couch is mauve.”
“Mine was, too. But now my couch is gray.”
The two women are playing rummy.
It’s funny, you don’t see many people playing rummy anymore. I find myself distracted by their game because, you might not know this, but for many years I was international grand rummy champion. I could not be beat.
I first learned how to play the game when I was in third grade. I used to attend a daycare because my mother and father both had full-time jobs.
I lived at that daycare center. I ate suppers there. I slept there when my parents worked nightshifts sometimes.
The woman who presided over the whole place was an elderly lady named Miss Pat, who smoked Virginia Slims and had a voice like an eight-cylinder diesel engine.
She was a large woman with a great bosom, hard eyes, and white-blond hair that looked like it had been treated with industrial-strength Clorox.
Miss Pat did not have a reputation for being a friendly woman. Children were terrified of her. Rumor was that she had once killed a boy for sticking bubblegum beneath his chair. Word on the playground was that she ended his life with a stapler. His remains were never found.
But by some warped stroke of fate, Miss Pat adored me.
I don’t know what it was about me, but whenever I arrived at the daycare after school, Miss Pat wanted me all to herself. She would hold in her great arms and kiss my face, smearing her glossy coral lipstick all over my baby flesh. She made me feel special.
And she always had a game ready for us to play. We would play for hours until it was time to go home. We played dominoes, Uno, Scrabble, Boggle, checkers, Othello, and of course, rummy.
Mostly what I remember about Miss Pat, however, was that she told me stories. Throughout each hand of rummy, she would talk about her husband, Al, who she’d met back when she was a “whack.”
“A whack?” I asked her. “What’s a whack?”
It was spelled WAC, and it stood for Women’s Army Corps. When Miss Pat was a young woman, she served in Europe along with 150,000 other women in World War II. And that’s where she met her husband.
“I met him when he was a doughboy,” she said, drawing cards from the deck.
“What’s a doughboy?” I asked.
“Infantry,” she said, taking a long pull on her smoke, laying down three sevens. “Means he was on the frontlines.”
Miss Pat would tell me war stories from the Great War, and I would listen. She told me about how her husband got wounded, and about how Al convalesced on a navy ship where she functioned as his nurse.
And that’s where she learned rummy. Al taught her. They would play cards in his room for hours until he’d fall asleep. Then she’d just watch him sleep and pray for him to get better.
“I prayed for him until I started losing weight from praying so hard,” she once told me. “I knew I was in love with him.”
Al had a head injury, sometimes his memory came and went. Nobody knew if he was going to pull through. But, by some miracle, he did. They were married as soon as they were ashore.
They never had kids, and they were married for a hundred thousand years. The two of them played rummy every night after supper.
One day I finally got to meet old Al. I’ll never forget it. He came into the daycare, dressed like all old men from his generation. Sansabelt pants, button down shirt that looked like it was made from the same material they use to cover mattresses. He played rummy with us, and he was unable to use his right arm or speak without slurring his words.
I watched the two of them interact. A great change came over Miss Pat. She seemed to soften around her longtime sweetheart. The old grumpy woman ceased being a hard-nosed teacher and became a delightful young WAC right before my eyes.
I remember how they laughed together. And I remember the old-person kiss they exchanged. A quick peck on the lips. I remember playing rummy with them and feeling proud to be seated at the grownups table.
I also remember Miss Pat’s funeral. I wore a clip-on tie. My father let me slip a deck of cards into the old woman’s casket.
Funny what you remember in a coffee shop.
Susan H Poole - March 24, 2022 4:26 am
Oh, how I love this story. Every paragraph painted a picture. 💞♤◇♡♧
Elizabeth ( Betsey) Wooten - March 24, 2022 5:06 am
A beautiful story!
Leigh Amiot - March 24, 2022 8:35 am
As the ladies in the coffee shop triggered a good trip down memory lane, so your columns often do for me.
oldlibrariansshelf - March 24, 2022 9:30 am
A dear friend, who is no longer among the quick, met her husband while he was a convalescing soldier in the Pacific during World War II. Thank you for reminding me of her. Thank you, too, for reminding me to introduce the grands and great-grands to card games.
Joy Jacobs - March 24, 2022 10:22 am
Great memories. I never knew “old people kiss” was a thing although after 50 years of marriage we’ve perfected it. 💋
Paul McCutchen - March 24, 2022 11:08 am
I remember watching some of the “older generation at the time” play dominoes at the local barber shop. I kept asking questions about the game they decided to sit me down and teach me. I really enjoyed myself and I enjoyed the stories.
Trudy - March 24, 2022 11:59 am
Mt family played Rummy growing up. My mother taught me how and I loved it. My mom lived with me the last four years of her life and we would play Rummy sometimes. She wasn’t as sharp as she used to be and I could easily beat her. I started letting her win and she was always happy when she beat me. I’m sure when I was a child there were plenty of times she let me beat her.
Cathy My - March 24, 2022 12:19 pm
Miss Pat would be so proud of you and all that you do to make so many people happy. You are a blessing to many
Ellouise - March 24, 2022 12:22 pm
Miss Pat was a very lucky lady. Not only did she marry her soulmate, but she got you to baby
Cm - March 24, 2022 12:39 pm
Rhonda - March 24, 2022 1:04 pm
Storytelling at it’s FINEST!!! You have intricately woven so many significant points throughout the piece. It’s a beautiful tapestry of words!
Suellen - March 24, 2022 1:34 pm
Our family played Shafskopf (Sheephead) much like Euchre. I l would have loved your Miss Pat. I like people who are sometimes gruff and flawed. Those kind of people often turn out to be the real gems and you have a way of finding them.
Mike Dube - March 24, 2022 1:40 pm
Especially liked this one. I interacted a lot with older people all my life, and for the most part enjoyed them immensely & learned a lot. No I am one…… 🙂
Melanie - March 24, 2022 1:41 pm
Just beautiful, Sean.
Sean of the South: Rummy | The Trussville Tribune - March 24, 2022 2:26 pm
[…] By Sean Dietrich, Sean of the South […]
Ruth Mitchell - March 24, 2022 2:30 pm
How sweet that at your young age you could appreciate another generation. Bless you for sharing these touching memories.
Suzanne Moore - March 24, 2022 2:32 pm
I loved this story, Sean.
Belinda Bailey - March 24, 2022 3:02 pm
So glad you had a Mrs. Pat. Colorful and lovely story.
AlaRedClayGirl - March 24, 2022 4:06 pm
I’m so glad your Miss Pat turned out to be a wonderful influence on you. My first foray into school was a bit different. My mother enrolled me in a kindergarten (back when kindergarten could be a separate “school”) that was operated by a lady who had a wooden leg prosthesis. The story among the five-year-olds there was that if she got mad at you she would take her leg off and beat you with it. Naturally, I was terrified of this lady who seemed a little grouchy. One day I tripped over her leg when I walked up to her desk. She was a bit upset at my clumsiness, and I just knew I was done for. But the wooden leg stayed put and my life was spared. I was only in that school for a few weeks when I contracted the measles. After I recovered, I begged my mother not to send me back and fortunately she didn’t. However for many years after that, whenever I passed by that school, I would have that same sick feeling in the pit of my stomach. So hurray for those wonderful teachers and day care workers who leave a positive influence on their charges!
Mary Douglas - March 24, 2022 4:07 pm
Awesome story! Thank you! Loved the library
post!!! You touch our hearts
Linda Moon - March 24, 2022 6:32 pm
I just had a noisy conversation with one of my women friends (notice I omitted the descriptive word you used for the card-players). My friend and I actually talked about our phones (one of my least favorite topics). Sweet is what you remembered there and sweet of you to pass it on to us!
Randall Kemp - March 24, 2022 9:20 pm
Thank you for the wonderful story.
Patricia Gibson - March 25, 2022 12:30 am
Certain people leave a mark on your life that is never forgotten ❤️❤️
Chasity Davis Ritter - March 25, 2022 7:43 pm
Oh Sean…. 😭 yes it is funny the things you can remember or what makes you remember them.
Melissa Mikkelsen - March 28, 2022 11:26 am
I must have been around the same age when our neighbor was a retired merchant marine. He taught me how to tie knots as a way of keeping a five year old girl entertained. I also rode a lime green plastic inch worm toy up and down his driveway. To this day anything that’s tied I can untie and anything I tie won’t come undone. God bless Mr Grant. And all of that generation that loved us like we were their own.
CHARALEEN WRIGHT - March 29, 2022 4:24 am
Lisa Coston - April 1, 2022 1:34 am
My husband and I play almost every night! We live in a suburb of Birmingham, and are welcome to come play. Let me know!
Tim Bryant - April 25, 2022 12:12 pm
My favorite sentence: “I prayed for him until I started losing weight from praying so hard.” That’s *some* prayin’!