Saturday, March 16, 2013


        JOE"S Family restaurant in Ocean City, on the Eastern Shore of MD. opened onto the boardwalk adjacent to the long wooden pier, spilling out over the Atlantic Ocean.   
             The summer of my sophomore year in High School ( 1961), I boarded a Greyhound Bus for the 50 mile trip to start my first summer job away from home at JOE"S, waitressing.                   
           The learning curve was steep for the first couple weeks, no eating in the restaurant during working hours, no smoking at our corner table, no flirting with customers, clean uniforms and shoes a must, cleaning rules for all stations at the end of each shift.
           I'd been forewarned by a senior waitress, when ordering coffee from Etta, we were to ask for  coffee "with" for cream or coffee without, meaning black.  Etta was feisty and did not take kindly to us white girls using the word black for coffee orders.              
             One hot, humid Saturday afternoon in late July, I observed a negro gentleman in a dark suit and straw hat outside the restaurant looking at a menu posted near the grill where " Squirrel" was busy flipping burgers.  After several minutes, "Squirrel" caught my eye and beckoned me to come to the front and verbally gave me the man's order which I wrote out on my order pad and placed on a clothes pin inside the kitchen serving window in the back.
           He'd ordered a T-Bone steak, potato and peas.  I waited on a couple booths, keeping one eye focused on the serving counter, waiting for my order to be filled.   
           When " Big James" rang the bell I noticed the meal was served on a paper plate.  Walking to the front and handing the warm paper plate to Squirrel, I observed he passed the steak and plastic utensils out to the gentleman, who then made his way across the boardwalk to a green bench.  Shocked I asked, " Can;'t we at least give him silverware"?  "Squirrel's" response was Roy, our boss, would " chew his hide". 
        Slowly returning to my station, sadness crept over me like a dense fog.  Pausing for a couple  minutes, I asked a co-worker in my area to watch my tables while I ran an errand.  She looked at me  puzzled, as this was unusual.  Without batting an eye, I picked up silverware from the tray and a steak knife wrapped in a napkin,  strolled out the front of the restaurant to the green benches directly across where our customer was sitting with his meal balanced precariously on his knees.  
         Saying Hello, I introduced myself and handed him the bundle of silverware and asked if I could sit down.  He responded,  "Yes Maam".  As he ate his meal in the hot afternoon sun, we spoke of the weather, where we lived, our families and fishing , as Roy's round, sour face glared over his glasses at me across the chasm. 
         Upon finishing his meal and disposing the plate in a nearby trash can, he handed me the silverware wrapped in the napkin, smiled and thanked me for keeping him company. 
        As he walked away, my gaze followed him knowing in my heart I'd done the right thing, " Do unto others" echoing from an earlier teaching.    
       My future was unknown to me then as I rose from the green bench, slowly making my way back across the boardwalk, with a clear vision that equality and dignity was every man's right in America.                                                                                                                 Brenda Payne


Thursday, March 14, 2013

Writing Class

New nurses Brenda and Robin - Boise, Idaho 1966
 Brenda's 'Amigo'  - her first car - 1965 or 1966 Mustang - what? no convertible?

My Nursing School friend, Brenda, has been taking a creative writing class. She gave me her permission to post two of her papers. I think they are wonderful stories and very well written. I'd give her an A+ :

                                 MS. MILLER 
                   Driving a new Easter egg yellow convertible, Ms. Miller pulled into the driveway, turned off the engine and stepped out from behind the wheel. She was a vision like no other, wearing a strapless flowered dress, red lipstick, sunglasses and high heeled shoes, resembling glass.
                  After knocking on the screen door, adjacent to the pump, and receiving no response, she turned to go, as my Mother, in a flour sack cotton dress, returned from the chicken house with an empty grain bucket dangling from her forearm. Introducing herself, Billie Miller mentioned that Mr. Harry at the corner grocery store offered our names for possible chores she needed done around her newly leased farmhouse.
                  Holding my breath as I peered out the kitchen window, my Mother answered affirmatively, my brothers and I were available for her tasks, commencing in the morning. Thanking my mother, she turned and strolled back to her car, with the afternoon sun casting golden shadows on her bare tan shoulders.
                  Beside myself with anticipation, the evening felt like molasses running uphill, slowly inching toward darkness.  I could hardly wait until morning when I'd be walking up her long driveway and knocking on her door.  

                 The next morning, she answered the door, wearing pedal pushers, halter top and sandals with jewels! As she greeted me, I focused on the vast space beyond her silhouette  She invited me in, picked up her list from the kitchen counter, and motioned for me to follow her room to room.  I'd never seen anything so spacious and beautiful.  Growing up in our cramped Maryland farmhouse quarters, two rooms with a lean-to kitchen, left little room for space, privacy or beauty.
                  She laid out various chores for each week, sweep and vacuum all rooms, clean floors, shake throw rugs, dust, clean walkways, clean kitchen, hang clothes outside to dry, among others. I'd performed most of the chores for others in the small town, however, never had I seen a room like her
bedroom. This was nirvana. The highlight of chores was to clean her bedroom closet and try on her exotic shoes, prancing around the room, pretending to be a movie star!  Adjacent to the closet stood a floor length mirror, surrounded by a dark wooden frame.  When tilted, ones entire body could be viewed all at one time. My familiarity with a mirror was on the front of the medicine chest, hanging in our kitchen.
                  After work, she'd invite me to jump through the sprinkler in the yard, the spray of water cooling me as I twirled.  This was a new experience as our water source was a hand pump. When I'd recite my multiplication tables, she'd listen and exclaim how smart I was.  She taught me how to walk up and down stairs like a "lady". Occasionally, she'd invite me to ride in her convertible to a neighboring town to pick up her dry cleaning and laundry.  Feeling like a princess, I'd choose a pair of her numerous sunglasses from the visor.  Pulling into a gas station created quite a buzz as the attendants would jockey to pump her gas and check the oil, never a moments wait.
                  Back home, at suppertime when rehashing our day, some things were left unsaid.  Being from a teetotal-ling household, I'd never seen such beautiful and exotic bottles that perched in her glass front cupboard in the dining room. My Father would not have approved.
                 In the afternoon, after my chores, I'd join her in the yard as she sunbathed in her two-piece bathing suit, lying on a lounger sipping on a sweating glass of ice, filled with a honey colored liquid.
                Hanging up her lacy underwear on the clothes line did not, in the least, resemble my rainbow panties from Sears and Roebuck catalog, with a " day of the week" stamped on the back of each pair.
               In the living room stood a framed picture of a handsome teen-aged boy in a uniform.  Later, I learned he was her 14 yr. old son.  He attended a military academy in Baltimore.  From all accounts, there was no sign of a Mr. Miller.  There were whispered rumors floating around town that she was
               Sometimes on the week-ends, a dark haired handsome man would drive down from the city.  On Monday morning, there'd be unwashed dishes piled beside the sink, cigarette butts in the ash trays, and empty bottles from the corner cupboard.
              One evening she dropped me off in her convertible.  My Father, a serious man, was in the garden across the country road, leaning on his hoe.  As she stepped out of the car to open the trunk, my father stood a little straighter and I saw the corners of his mouth curl in to a wide grin as he called Hello to her.
             She was unlike any woman I'd known in my short life of 10 years.  That impressionable, magical summer produced gifts not wrapped in a fancy box.. however, treasures of another sort, confidence, self esteem, believing in myself and independence. 
             I'd met a woman who was the pilot of her own ship.