Some moments you just can’t plan. They come out of no where and are just mystical. This morning was one of those moments. I boarded an early Sunday morning plane from Atlanta to Tampa for two days of friend-raising and fund-raising on behalf of my university. Despite the hour and the day, I wasn’t dreading the trip. It was just one night and we (my chief development officer and I) were scheduled to visit with some folks I like a lot. Our first meeting was at one-thirty and after getting close to the locale of the visit, there was time for a bit of lunch. Peter drove up and down a pretty non-distinct stretch of road looking for somewhere to stop. We passed a diner, Darrell and Sharon’s, with a reasonably full parking lot, but looking a little shabby from the outside. We drove on a bit looking for something more promising. No such thing appeared and we made a u-turn to try our luck with Darrell and his sister or wife Sharon.
D and S’s is across the street from a mobile home park that looked like it dated from the 1960’s. One sees a lot of such parks across this part of Florida and, best I can tell, across a whole lot of parts of Florida. We parked and headed for the front door, which is actually on the side. People looked up as we entered. That’s always a good sign. In my book that means everyone inside was a regular and clearly we were not. Another good sign was that there wasn’t an empty table and there was even a couple waiting. They were an elderly couple, which pretty much described everyone eating there except for Peter and me. They were also very sweet. “I think there’s a couple of seats at the counter”, they encouraged us. That worked just fine and we plopped down next to a darling, very well-dressed woman sitting all alone. There were only three counter seats and now all of them were occupied. Peter, Pauline and me.
That’s Pauline in the picture. The other picture is of the sign in front of the mobile home park next door from which Pauline rode her bike this morning. She lives eight blocks in and, in fact, rides her bike over every day of the week. She’s lived there for thirty-seven years. If I do the math, that means she moved in at age 60, retiring here from just south of Buffalo, New York. Yes, Pauline is 97. Because this was Sunday, she had to stop on her way to Darrell and Sharon’s at church where she plays the organ each Sunday.
Pauline is easy to strike up a conversation with. Charming, delightful and, even at her age, she could hear every word we said in what was a noisy and very busy restaurant. Pauline wasn’t eating. She was waiting for a table to open up. She pointed out the cashier, who looked about seventy. “That’s my daughter,” Pauline told us. She wandered over to us. “That’s my mother,” she said with a wink. “I need to know if your intentions are honorable.” If Pauline had been just a little bit younger, we might have had a problem, but we assured her we were decent folk. “I’m waiting for a table,” Pauline told us with a proud and broad smile, “so I can finish my job. I wrap about 500 knife/forks/spoons in the paper napkins. I do this every day”.
After a few minutes, Sharon came over, or at least I assume it was Sharon. She looked a little like a young Cher (not that young, but younger than the real Cher). This was getting better, if that was even possible. “Pauline, these men have wedding rings. I’d ask for papers before you get any more involved.” Did this routine go on every day, I wondered. I’d like to think not. There was a certain magnetism between Pauline and us boys from the north (north of Florida that is). I couldn’t have imagined it could I?
Pauline left us after maybe 15 minutes to start her job. When we left, I wandered over to say good-bye. I kissed her on the cheek. “Have a lovely day,” she told me. You as well.
The breakfast was magnificent and cheap. The company was lovely. The conversation was magical. If you’ve ever in that neck of the woods, stop by. But keep your hands off Pauline.