Was on the way back from Sterling City, after a meeting with a land man who said he might be interested in an oil lease on my property.
Was I on time for the meeting?
Ten minutes early.
We talked and sized each other up over two hours of coffee, and played the “do you know so-and-so” game.
It was a good meeting and we shook a firm handshake as we departed one another.
But as I sped down the highway back to the ranch, I realized I was hungry, even for the skinny guy that I am.
“Ah, service station, just ahead.”
(I think they call ‘em “convenience stores” these days.)
Pulled off, eased into the driveway and parked between the yellow lines in front to the store.
Admonished Sierra the Dog to stay put in the back seat on her sheepskin comforter as I stepped out and then through the double entry doors of the store, the late afternoon sum casting shadows across the chip and peanut bags hanging on their display.
Yep! They had a little kitchen in back, which I was counting on. (common for West Texas)
The smell of fried foods wafted in the air. And there was a small glass case with sliding doors near the cashier’s stand with three metal shelves of…of, whatever, stuffed in small, open, cardboard containers under an intense warming light overhead.
I wandered over and glanced through the glass sliding doors while the young cashier with a butterfly tattoo just above the cleavage of her young breasts in her low slung, tightly clinging T-shirt (I don’t miss much) checked out the only other customer in the store.
“That’ll be $5.24,” she said.
He laid out the money… a $5.00 bill and a quarter, which he had to search for in his jean’s pocket.
“Keep the change,” he said and grabbed up whatever it was that he had bought and quickly stepped through the double glass doors.
“Thanks,” she said, as the door closed.
The young woman, 20-ish maybe, turned her attention to me.
“What can I get fer you?” she asked.
“Don’t see any chicken gizzards here,” I said.
“Chicken gizzards?!” she responded. “Whatzat?”
About then, I glanced up, through the sliding glass doors and through the nearby doorway behind, in a room bathed in fluorescent light (apparently the kitchen/office), to see a pair of skinny legs, bent at the knee, with soft shoes, in lime-yellow colored pants and a skinny hand and wrist, holding a walking cane.
All I could see were the skinny legs, shoes and cane.
Whoever it was sat behind the doorjamb and wall.
“Gizzards?” she said again.
“Sheila!” came the voice from the other room and I saw the walking cane tremble bit and heard the sounds of a body arising from, I guess a chair.
Around the doorjamb of the doorway shuttled an old man, very thin, dressed in soft shoes, ugly pants, blue shirt and green necktie. Leaning on his walking cane heavily.
He looked at me intently as he shambled toward the other side of the glass case.
I was beginning to feel uncomfortable.
“You like gizzards?” he asked, over the top of the glass case.
“Yes, sir; I do.”
Sheila had almost backed into a corner, wide-eyed.
I was beginning to feel uncomfortable (did I say that already?).
“How old are you, boy?” asked the old man.
“bout 65-ish,” I said. “Why?”
“Well…you be the tail end of folk who go for gizzards. Southern, you are?”
“Good enough. Sheila!”
“Go look in the left-hand, back corner of the frig…get that little bag and throw it into the deep fryer…bring it out when it’s done.”
“Yes sir.” And she scampered away, leaving me and the old man alone.
“That’s my great granddaughter who’s helping me out at this store.”
“Oh!” I said, shoving both of my hands into my pockets. “You own this place?”
“Yep. Since 1950ish or something thereabouts. You got a name?”
“Ed, as in Edward.”
“That’s a good name.”
He fell silent.
“Yours?” I asked.
He looked up at me.
“Tony, as in Anthony’” and smiled.
I smiled back, taking my hands out of my pockets.
“That’s a good name.”
“How old are you, Tony?”
He teetered a second on his walking cane, using its soft rubber-tipped cap to catch his sway.
“And still running this store?”
“Only with Sheila’s help. And her mother’s.”
I could hear Sheila in the little kitchen loading up a plate.
“Wanna talk?” I asked.
“I like talking to old people.”
“I’m not old!”
“Yes you are, and you damned well know it!”
He looked at the linoleum floor.
“Who do you think you are, boy!” he yelled.
“A wannabe historian…and you’re walking history.”
Sheila showed up in the doorway with a plateful of fried chicken gizzards, still wide-eyed, probably having heard her great grandfather’s outburst.
“Sheila, give that plate to…to…Ed. Ed? Right?”
“Then, Cutsie, lock the doors and turn off the front lights, okay?”
“Ed…let’s go back here where there’s a table and chairs.. Bring the gizzards.”
So, Tony, Sheila and I munched on chicken gizzards on an old, near-dilapidated wooden table, sitting in squeaky old wooden chairs as the sun began to set…talking.
“Don’t know many folks these days, Ed, that go for gizzards…but obviously you were brung up right!”
I smiled, thinking of my upbringing.
“So, Tony, you were too young for World War 1, but you…..”
“Yes, I was at Pearl Harbor and……….”