I’m not normally the quiet sort. But for some reason, my extroverted self stayed home when we went to the local diner for breakfast this morning. We were seated at a two-top with a chair on one side and a long bench that stretched the length of the wall on the other. Two-tops were lined up side-by-side and next to us was an older woman sitting alone on the bench side. I slid in beside her. At first I felt frustrated. I wanted to have breakfast alone with my husband. Not with him and a complete stranger. Clearly she would hear everything we said so I felt less inclined to start a conversation. Not that I intended to talk about anything super private. Still.
She got up, leaving her purse and coat at the table where her herbal tea was steeping. I suddenly felt protective of her things. Not that anyone was within reach of her purse, but she was here alone after all. There was nobody for her to say, “Could you watch this a minute?” A luxury I have often.
She came back shortly with the local paper thick with Sunday ads. I had a sudden urge to also read the paper over coffee and was deciding whether I wanted to get one too when she looked our way and said, “You can share the paper with me if you like.” And then she looked at my husband and said with a smile, “but I have the sports section.”
After thanking her and saying the sports section wasn’t his favorite part, I took the front page and handed my husband the arts and living page. We were all quiet a minute and then she said something about making assumptions that he would want the sports section. “I like arts, too,” she said. “I smiled and said not to worry. People have made plenty of assumptions about us, meaning women, though I’m not sure if it was clear. She smiled. Such a simple gesture, sharing the paper. And yet so rare.
I wish we’d have continued engaging with her but the paper called and we were each engrossed in our sections. And then the food came and everyone knows it’s not polite to talk with your mouth full. Mostly, though, I was just finding my way out of the box I was in. A little scrooge-like, resistant to reaching out but now greatly intrigued.
As she was ripping out a coupon I untied my tongue and asked, “Are you all ready for Christmas?” And that was all it took. We learned that she had lived here in the 60’s and 70’s. She moved back over six years ago from Virginia after leaving her husband, a very popular doctor there which apparently meant she lost the majority of her friends. Her grown children live 3 or more hours away and said she is getting used to them not being nearby. Clearly dealing with issues of aging and major life transitions, she was interesting and I could had kept talking but our bills came cueing us to leave.
“You can take the paper if you want,” she said. “I’m done with it.” Like the breakfast she ordered and only ate part of, the paper was simply a method of connecting with the world. And the fortunate diner at the next table.