I had lived in the small town for 2 years when my partner decided never to come home again. He worked offshore and decided to go to Belize to sell auto parts. I don’t really think it was just auto parts, but I had 3 small kids and could have cared less what he did. He was a raging alcoholic. Still being young at the age of 28, I was alone on 15 acres with 2 pigs (Buck and Loretta), 2 wild crazy horses (Waylon and Willie), a bunch of chickens laying 17 eggs a day, a garden that I had planted and had no idea what to do next, my horse (Pepper) and a pony(Coco) for the first-born. My water came from the windmill, and there were rattlesnakes. After 6 months of struggle, I decided to look for someone to hang out with. I actually took the phone book, which had 3 pages for my town in a book that had 7 small towns in it. It was still a very small phone book, nothing like the city phone book of Dallas/Fort Worth.
It was really a joke. My girlfriend and I, drinking wine, going through each name. Are they married? How old do you think they are? Do they work? We laughed and carried on, but the hard cold fact was there were no noticeable bachelors around my age in the small town in which I found myself.
My grandmother had moved down to the small town with me. She didn’t like me to be alone, or she didn’t think I knew how to properly take care of kids. My grandfather was so attached to my first-born that he jumped at the chance to move closer. They bought the only little cafe in town. The word little really doesn’t do the cafe justice. Six tables and a small kitchen. My grandmother kept the place full with her cooking, and it gave me a place to work and bring two babies. The first-born was in 2nd grade.
It was an enjoyable workplace. Everyday the clients were mostly small town and rural folks. Men that had been working would come in as groups, visit, laugh, and we would just generally shoot the shit all during the lunch shift. I was the only worker and my grandmother was the only cook. We would serve a special, which most people would eat. If they didn’t eat the plate lunch, it would be a hamburger/cheeseburger.
And here it comes. There was one particular farmer/rancher that came in every day. He was a bachelor. I couldn’t figure his age, but I knew it was 40+. He was quiet, and people in town called him “Grouch.” We decided to open the cafe on Friday and Saturday nights just for a couple of hours to serve hamburgers and other short order items. Grouch came in every Friday and Saturday night. Our business was mostly take out during this time, so often he was the only one that ate in the cafe itself. That would leave he and I alone in the small building while I cooked his meal, and he ate it.
It was during this time that we began to chat, and the only reason was that I was unable to be in a room with another person and not try to carry on a conversation. I learned some small things; he was a lifelong democrat, the youngest of 9 children, with two loving parents, but very poor growing up. He had never been married, but would not discuss his age. I began to become extremely curious. He lived in a new house in town that he had just built. Nothing fancy. He worked very hard and often came in and you could tell he had been working his butt off. He never went without his hat, and I suspected he was bald, but all the guys work hats or caps. He was tall and really reminded me of a big ole Scotsman. I became more and more curious and began to want to know more. I don’t know if he caused that purposefully or by accident. (He now says on purpose, that he was just waiting for that hook to get good and deep before reeling me in.)
Homecoming was approaching, and in small town America it is a really big deal. It’s not just for the school, but the entire town participates in a bonfire, parade, decorating, a lunch and then a dinner at the school with the culminating football game on Saturday night. Many people who had previously lived here came back and all day long everyone milled around and visited. The week of homecoming Grouch asked me if I would like to sit with him at the football game.
Now, this is a unique ritual. The people who liked to drink park their trucks at the end of the football field, let down the tailgates and partied through the game. He intended me to meet him there, come down to his truck and have a drink. I could figure it out. I was excited about it, but did not know why. I talked to a long time friend on the phone and just kept saying, “I know he’s too old for me, but I don’t know how old he is.”
I anxiously awaited the weekend as the days passed slowly by, and even though Grouch came into the cafe, he didn’t say anything else about us meeting. On the night in question, I dressed, got the kids to my grandmothers, and headed to the football game. I parked, paid to go in and walked to the stands. Sitting in the stands, I could see the end zone with all the pickup trucks, but I could not spot his truck. I walked down and looked several times during the game, but he never showed. Now the bad part is that he was bringing the bottle, so I had nothing to drink. I was “stood up” and without alcohol. Not a good night for my first night out. I got my nerve up and drove by his house. No lights were on and his truck was in the front of the house. I couldn’t get the courage to go to the door. I decided he must have changed his mind, or that maybe I had misunderstood what he had asked.
I went home after a miserable night and vowed that I was through with Grouch #1. More to come…………………………
The next week at the cafe Grouch came in just like nothing had happened. I waited until an opportunity arose and asked him what happened. He said he had gotten sick. I thought that was a likely excuse. He waited until Friday evening and asked me to again go out for a drink. Now, where you would go for a drink in a dry county in a town of 300 people is beyond me, and I later learned that, for the locals, it meant riding around in the truck and drinking beer (or something more fancy like wine coolers).
I had been invited to a Halloween party on Saturday night with friends and was driving to the metroplex on Saturday to stay the night with those friends. I was to help them with the party they were having and part of that included a trip to the liquor store. Now, when you live in a dry county and you drink, you take every opportunity for people to pick up something for you if they are making the trip. On Saturday morning Grouch was in the cafe when I came by to let my grandmother know I was leaving. He followed me to the car asking me where I was going. I told him to a party. He asked me if I would be going to a liquor store. I said yes, and he asked me if I would pick “us” up a bottle of whiskey. I asked him what he liked, and he replied (as he handed me a $20 bill), “I don’t really care, but times are hard so see if you can make this stretch for two.” I took the money and left. Everyone in the cafe was standing at the window watching this take place in the parking lot.
I had a great time at the party. We stayed up all night, ate breakfast, and I headed for home because we were having my baby girl’s first birthday party later that afternoon. Needless to say, by the time that was over and the kids were in bed, I was exhausted. It was Sunday night, and I remembered that I had his bottle of whiskey. I had bought Wild Turkey and a bottle of Blue Nun wine. Usually when you pick up something for a person, they are expecting to get it back pretty quickly, so I looked up his number in the 3 pages of phone numbers and called. He answered with his very slow drawl, “Uh, hello.” I told him I had his bottle, and he abruptly said, “I am busy. I have to go.” I was a bit bewildered, but too tired to think about it much.
Next day, business as usual. Monday was busy and by the time kids were in bed that evening, and I sat down to watch some TV, it dawned on me that I still had Grouch’s liquor. It was sitting in the paper sack on my TV, the bottle of Wild Turkey, the bottle of Blue Nun, and the change. I decided to try it again. I called and once again he answered and put me off with a, “I have company; I have to go.” O.K. I was a little mad, a little tired, a little confused. Had I read the signals wrong. Did I hear him wrong. I thought he said “us”. I thought he had been coming to the cafe for more than just the meals, but it wouldn’t be the first time I misinterpreted someone’s actions.
Next day I thought all day about what to say and do. I could barely wait until evening to try again. I called and said, “I have your bottle here, and if you don’t come get it then it will be sitting on your porch in the morning.” His reply? “I’ll be right there.”
Now, I was freakin’ out. I didn’t really know this guy too well, and he was coming to my house where my babies were sleeping. I watched out the back porch where I could see about a mile down the road and before long I saw truck lights headed my way. I was spooked, but managed to hang on to my sanity. He pulled into the circle drive out front, and I opened the front door. When he didn’t move to come up to the house, I went out to the truck. “Come on in,” I said. “What about your kids?” he answered. They won’t mind I told him, and after considerable coaxing he came up to the door. I went in and turned around just in time to see him come through the front door. He had to duck to get in. This was a real cowboy, the real deal. I was impressed. I told you earlier that I had seen too many westerns. He was John Wayne, Roy Rogers, and Gary Cooper all rolled into one. He stopped immediately inside the door and asked me quite seriously, “Do you mind if I hug you?” I had never heard that line. I told him no I didn’t mind, and when he wrapped those long, strong arms around me I was a goner. I had not felt that safe in a long time, maybe never before. I was weak kneed, and my heart was pounding. We had a great time, drank a lot, laughed a lot, told each other way more than we should have, and he left at sunrise with my heart.