Tuesday, April 12, 2016

April 12, 2016--Rhonda's Biscuits Concluded

It took awhile for our breakfasts to arrive.

We were sitting diagonally across from Rhonda and had a clear line of site and so could watch her carefully and deliberately cook one order at a time. Unlike other short-order cooks, she took her time.  First, she scrupulously scraped and wiped the grill, then in a mixing bowl, she cracked and beat with a fork two eggs. Two at a time even if she was making eggs for a party of two (like us) or four (like the folks at the table all with biscuits) where more commonly the chef would scramble on the grill all four or even all eight eggs, and then divide them into portions when they were done.

"I can see why this place is so crowded," I whispered to Rona, "Even now, close to 11:00, it's still full. Probably people have been here since 8:30 waiting for their orders to be completed."

Rona punched my arm to shush me. "Keep your voice down," she said, "We're strangers here."

"I'm just finding this fascinating," I said and took to just observing what would happen next.

When Rhonda had four plates with eggs and bacon and grits ready to turn over to the waitress who was hovering patiently, two at a time she brought them to where we were perched on our stools, sipping at our coffee, and slid open a large stainless steel drawer, looked around--it felt like mainly at us--and extracted carefully, one biscuit at a time which she in turn gently placed on each of the plates. Blocking us so we couldn't see what else might be in that draw she slid it shut and only then was she ready to turn the steaming dishes over to Ellie, the waitress, who caught our eye and shrugged, as if to say, "What can you do. It's a living."

Mr, Harris, next to us at the counter said, "Next time you're round these parts I recommend the catfish. Uh, uh," he said and slowly patted his mouth with his perfectly-folded napkin. "If I hada thought, I woulda offered you a taste. I'm 92--don't say I don't look that old 'cause I know I do." He smiled.

"You don't look . . . ," I said but he cut me off before I could finish. At most he looked 75.

"Been coming here for years. Every Saturday morning. Like clockwork. I have to be patient too. Don't take it personal. We're off the interstate here and don't get that many strangers passing though who are in a hurry. I don't mean you're strangers or anything like that," he added quickly. "Old Rhonda takes her good time and treats us all like equals."

He made a point of that as he was the only black person in the teeming restaurant.

A middle-age woman interrupted him as she was heading toward the cash register and said, with what looked like a small bow, "How nice to see you, Mr. Harris. It must be Saturday again," she chuckled. "And how is Mrs. Harris?" She din't pause to hear the answer, "And I trust your granddaughter is doing well at school."

"Yes, thank you, everyone is well."

"What courses is she taking again? I'm losing my memory, wouldn't you know." She sighed.

"She's in her final year and then it will be time for her to do her internship. Still says she wants to be a surgeon. I keep telling her that's not an easy thing for a girl. I mean, a woman. But she's determined. Stubborn too. Just like her mother."

"Well, next time you talk to her, please tell her I was asking about her." Then she turned to us and said, "A lovely family. The best people in town."

"Don't forget your umbrella," Mr. Harris said.

"See what I mean about my memory," she said to Rona.

"What medical school is she at?" I asked.

"Up in Baltimore. I can never remember its exact name. We just call it Hopkins. I know . . ."

"Johns Hopkins," I said. "Half the time I call it John Hopkins. I forget the Johns part. But it's a wonderful place. Good for her."

Another diner who had finished his breakfast was waiting for the women who claimed to be losing her memory to move along so he could say a few words to Mr. Harris.

"My Sally knew you'd be here," he said, pulling on the peak of his Redskins cap. "She said you'd be here like clockwork and there you be."

"Lovely woman, that Sally," Mr. Harris said half-turned toward us. "I trust her treatments are going well."

Sally's husband sighed, "Good as can be expected, I s'pose. It's all in His hands." He looked up toward the ceiling.

"And the doctors, too," Mr. Harris said, reaching out to touch him on the arm.

"She and I too really 'preciate all your concern and how every Sunday you and yours remember to send over a big basket of fruit. You know how she loves fruit. It's 'bout the only thing she enjoys these days. Poor thing." He wiped at his eyes.

Mr. Harris struggled up from his stool and embraced him. "You'll be fine," he whispered, still hugging him and patting his back. "Now, you've go to be strong for her."

"I will do my best," he said, "And thank you again for everything. I'll see you next Saturday. Same time, same place." And with that he headed for the front door

After Sally's husband left, Mr. Harris turned fully to Rona and softly said, "She is a lovely woman. Been good all these years to our family. She was a teacher in the high school where my granddaughter went. She was the one who encouraged her to take all those science courses while many of the others there suggested she be realistic and forget about being a doctor and train instead to be a nurse and stay in town and work in the hospital. And now she's . . . she's struggling against the odds. But if being a good person means anything, there's a better place waiting for her."

By then we were ready to leave, said goodbye to Mr. Harris, and with the check began to make our way to the cash register where Ellie was waiting.

"Hope you enjoyed your breakfast," she said.

"I loved everything," I said, "The food and everything else," I gestured back to where we had been sitting and toward Mr. Harris."

"Isn't he somethin' special? You'd never know how old he is."

"He is remarkable," Rona siad. "How everyone stopped to talk with him."

"Every Saturday he's always here. If you forget, his sittin' over there havin' his fried fish reminds you of that."

Rona was busy extracting cash from her wallet, "Maybe next year on our way south, we'll drive down route 310 and . . ."

"Be sure to do that, honey. We'd love to see you. We'll all be here. And if it's a Saturday . . ."

". . . Mr. Harris'll be having his catfish."

"Sure as the day is long. So be sure to stop by to see us, yuh hear."

We both nodded. And then, as we were about to say something, over her shoulder, Rhonda, still at the grill, working on a couple of sunny side eggs, called to us, "Make sure you do that. Next time you all can have all the biscuits you want."

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