Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Mount Eaton, Ohio

The wheat fields to my right seem like burning with this intense yellow light reflecting back from the rising sun. A couple of combines sit rusting next to a red barn, the paint beginning to fade. Rusty tractors in this early morning dew look like abandoned puppies outside the door wanting to come in. Crows circle the farms, yapping on the prowl. There’s no sign of a human anywhere around. Either it is too early in the day or everyone has gone to church already on this Sunday morning. The corn fields to my left keep whistling a sad old country song to the tune of the waltzing wind. Smoke begins rising from a couple of chimneys in the distance but there’s no lights turned on inside the houses. I stop on my tracks and look back to find out I’ve wandered too far off the parked bus. I walk back to Main Street in the direction of the bus and the “Hilltop Market” cafe where we’ve stopped for breakfast. A cold breeze rushes down Main Street and makes me yearn for some hot comfort food. I decide to keep walking and skip the “Hilltop Market” who is filling up with the noisy and rowdy passengers from the bus and finally come upon “The Olde Mountain Top Family Restaurant” on the outskirts of town. The neon sign keeps blinking intermittently like it’s about to go off. On the billboard outside they boast about serving the best omelets in the County. The lack of any artificial lights inside is a huge contrast to all the other places we’ve been stopping at in this journey and that is what makes me go in.

Inside, the café is furnished with big black exposed wooden beams on its high ceiling that cross the length of the roof. A big rusty wood counter stretches the entirety of the brick wall facing the entrance door. It has more the appearance of a saloon than the family restaurant they advertise to be. The place is dead silent and empty of costumers and if it weren’t for the smell of freshly brewed coffee coming from beyond the counter, I would have assumed the place was closed. I sit at the counter near the coffee pot who’s about finished brewing a new pot and try to look pass the half open kitchen door but don’t see anyone. I look around the place and it’s plain to see that I’m probably the first costumer of the day as every single Formica table is cleaned up and untouched. I look at the big clock on the wall beyond the counter and notice it’s still seven in the morning which explains why the place is empty. I settle in on my seat as I still got another twenty minutes before my bus leaves.

A couple of stools from me there’s a local newspaper spread open on the counter on the crosswords puzzle page. I pick it up and start reading the front page but I’m interrupted by the sound of someone coming in from the kitchen. When he comes in carrying a tray full of fresh vegetables he is so startled by my presence that he fumbles the tray and almost drops it to the floor. I apologize and find myself jumping from my stool trying to help him carry the load which he immediately dismisses. He’s an older gentleman, maybe well in his eighties and as soon as he places the tray securely on the counter he says that they’re not open yet. I apologize again saying that I only came in because I found the door half open and I thought I would finally find some peace and quiet to go with my breakfast this morning. He says usually they would be open for breakfast by now but on Sunday they open a little later. He finally looks me over as I’m about to leave and as he’s clearing the final vegetable from the tray and into the working table behind the counter he asks me if I want some coffee to go. I say I don’t want to put him off his chores and he counters saying he can’t serve me breakfast if that’s what I was looking for cause the eggs haven’t been delivered yet but he’s about to have some coffee himself so there’s no disruption for him. I accept his offer and he proceeds to pour a cup of coffee for himself on a ceramic mug and one for me in a Styrofoam cup. He stops short of pouring coffee for me and turns to ask if I prefer to have it here in a ceramic mug. I say that would be lovely and thank him.

“I heard you were looking for some peace and quiet this morning so I thought you’d appreciate it” he says as he hands me the mug.

“So, you’ve been on a Greyhound for how long now?” he asks me as he turns on the radio next to the coffee pot.

“Oh” I pause. “Since nine a.m. yesterday” He nods as he takes his mug and comes from behind the counter and sits two stools from me. “And I still got another eight hours to go before I get to my destination”.

He blows on his coffee and looks over at me and more precisely at the newspaper and I immediately apologize again and hand it over to him. He opens up the newspaper on the crosswords puzzle page and proceeds to do them like I’m not sitting there. I sip my coffee while Hank Thompson is playing on the radio. I observe the old man as he drinks his coffee one slow sip at a time while doing the crossword puzzle. His eyes focused on the newspaper while his hard-working wrinkled hands keep moving about. His right hand firmly holding the pen who’s dancing between his fingers while his left hand keep tapping on the counter lightly to the rhythm of the old time country music coming out of the radio. When he finishes the crosswords his eyes glare up as he closes the newspaper and finishes his coffee. He does it so matter-of-factly that I believe this has been his daily routine for the better part of his life.

He looks at me and finally asks “Where you headed then?” like he’s just picking up from our previous conversation.

“Oh, Cleveland today, to catch a connecting bus to Chicago”.

“You sure move around a lot don’t you?” and doesn’t wait for a proper response from me. “So where do you call home then?”

“I don’t have a particular place I can call home at the moment”

“What are you looking for then?”

“Excuse me?”

“Why you keep moving about… What’s out there that you want to find?” He grins at me as I stay silent and he goes behind the counter and pours himself another cup of coffee.

“You want me to top that off for you?” I nod my head in agreement as he pours the coffee. He comes from behind the counter and sits in the stool next to mine and blows on his coffee before taking a sip. “You know what you’re looking for out there?” and doesn’t wait for an answer. “You’re only looking for what you already are!...” I’m looking down at the steam coming out of my coffee mug and grin to myself at the old man’s precise assertion even though he’s known me for only a few minutes. We both sip from our coffee cups as we keep silent for awhile and listen to the radio as it’s playing another Hank Thompson song. When the song finishes and the DJ announces a commercial break to the Hank Thompson all-day festival, the old man ventures one last time, “Don’t go looking for validation to your life elsewhere. Just settle for who you are and let life catch up to you.”

The front door opens wide and a man comes in carrying a basket of fresh eggs. He puts them on the counter and shakes hands with the old man. I look at the clock above the counter and find it’s still stuck on 7 a.m. I take a sip of my coffee as the DJ on the radio announces Hank Thompson’s “Smoky the Bar” coming up next. I listen to the song for a few seconds while the old man is pouring a cup of coffee to the egg farmer and get lost in overlapping song and conversation happening. When the song ends the DJ announces the time and that’s when I realize that the clock above the counter is stuck on 7 a.m. and I’m out of time to catch my bus.
I panic and ask the old man how long I’ve been here. He shrugs his shoulders and apologizes for the clock saying he never did fixed it when it stopped running cause he never did serve any purpose to him anyway. I fumble my pockets for change to pay for the coffee but the old man says the coffee is on him. I thank him and rush to the door and he calls out to me.

“And slow down for chrissakes. You don’t want to rush to the end of your life, do you? You’ll miss the whole point of it…”

I stop before opening the door and smile as Hank Thompson finishes playing on the radio. I tip my baseball cap to the old man and step out of the café. Outside the day has fully bloomed. The sun is hidden behind a few clouds but it doesn’t stop it from shining on the fields. Roosters everywhere keep crowing out of synch. The tree leaves keep rustling in the wind. And further down the road a couple of horse carriages are making their way into town and for a minute or two I’m lost in their slow journey.

No comments:

Post a Comment