When I was growing up, my grandfather would take myself and my brother along on his many errands, buckled up in that white Crown Victoria. What should have taken an hour normally took at least three, depending on how many local residents that we ran in to that knew him. And to have known my grandfather was to love him, so mini conversations ensued, at each and every stop along the way.
The biggest cheerleaders for my grandfather ran in packs; a group of older gentlemen that you could typically find at the same exact location each and every week, almost likened to a “small town mafia” if you will. At the time, I referred to these men as the “old men at Hardees” or the “old men at Rainbow Restaurant”. When you came across them, you just knew: these men ruled the world over their coffee and copy of the weekly paper, and their opinion and friendship mattered to my grandfather. They would stand up and grin and shake his hand as he entered, and following, constant chatter that could only be halted by an empty mug of joe, which would be promptly refilled, coffee as thick and black as fresh earth, with steam crawling up their reading glasses as they conversed about politics, business, and how the wife was doing.
As a child I thought it odd: what could old men possibly find to talk about at length? How do they all get along so well? And how do they drink such copious amounts of coffee?
A couple of months ago, on a particularly dreary Friday morning, I don’t remember which one of us called first, but what I do remember is that both my sister in law and I had experienced a rushed, hurried, and stress filled week. There is a small window of time between when I drop the kids off at school and when our office opens to the public, so we decided to roll down the hill from the schoolhouse and meet up at McDonalds for some coffee and good old fashioned chit chat. Heels click clacking on the smooth, cool floor, we stood in line to get our morning lattes and slid into a booth not far from a group of older gentlemen, ten at least, occupying the tables next to the large window overlooking the parking area. We talked in loud animated tale and in low whispers, we offered up support and prayer, we chuckled over shared memories of a family beach trip gone wrong. And I left feeling refreshed and heard, and not crazy. It was like a curbside confessional; sins were admitted, secrets were shared, plans were made.
So, with all of our creative juices combined, we have since dubbed this practice, “Friday Coffee”, and have been meeting once a week ever since. When kids are sick, or school is called for snow, or other commitments arise, we just meet back the next Friday, right where we left off.
It began to occur to me that the men I met as a child weren’t necessarily “the old men at Hardees”. At one time, they were the young men at Hardees. There was a particularly dreary Friday afternoon where one of them said to another, “let’s go grab some coffee”. And that was it. Maybe it was after a graveyard shift, or an argument with family, or just the cure for a little loneliness. But they kept coming back, week after week, year after year, until they became a staple, a fixture at that same eatery the rest of their adult lives. Men probably came and went, but there was a pack that stuck together, thick as thieves.
One day, a little girl is going to come in to McDonalds on a Friday morning and see these same two women; one will have long, sandy hair; beautiful,calm and kind, with a smaller little girl with her while the other darker headed one talks super fast and waves her hands while telling a story, and keeps checking her watch to make sure she’s not late (that one probably doesn’t quite need the refill on the coffee). But they will be there, sharing stories and cheering each other on; discussing politics, business, and how the husbands are doing. They will rule the world over their coffee and their devotions, and they will seem so old to her. But now I know the answers to what old men possibly find to talk about at length, how do they all get along so well, and how do they drink such copious amounts of coffee: to these old ladies at McDonalds, it all started on a Friday.