The coffee group

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There is a group of old men who can be found most any afternoon at the Hardee’s on Marvyn Parkway in Opelika.
These are the remnants of what was once a pretty big group. Of course, there are several coffee groups around. There was the El Toro club at the Auburn Grille and the groups that met at Andy’s and some banks and other places. As members were gradually promoted to a higher grade, the coffee clubs shrank.
In the case of the Tyler’s club, with all that attrition, the two tables gradually merged. The Door Man left us. So did Barnes and Mr. Pratt and the insurance man, and Mr. Fleisher and Smith T. One or two others left – I think because they couldn’t find us.
Each club member has something to contribute, even me: I know how to listen. Mount, for instance, knows and loves everything there is to know about snakes! Fine. Smith T knew all about old Opelika; its trains, its houses, its old restaurants, its whatever.
Henry (who hated snakes, by the way) was an Opelika supporter to the point of jingoism. He was also our link to maybe the worst display of pure evil in the history of this world, the Holocaust. He escaped Nazi Germany when he was 6 or 7 years old. He devoted his later years to making sure today’s younger generation knows what the Holocaust was.
I’m a newcomer, relatively speaking. Fred, the newspaperman, and Jimmy, real estate tycoon, and Henry and Jones, can/could talk for hours about who owned what property and who married who and why and what were the family skeletons in a heap of closets.
I mostly listen. Somebody said, “But he doesn’t say anything.” Well, I can, and occasionally do, contribute whenever the subjects of clevises, heel bolts, Georgia stocks and the like come up.
The group that now meets at Hardee’s on Marvyn Parkway is one of the longest-running ones around. They call themselves the Opelika Order of Old Geezers. Got caps and everything. They started letting me sit in occasionally when they still met at Tyler’s.
Actually there were two tables. I called them the officers’ table and the enlisted men’s table.
The officers’ table was made up of store and business owners, some of them second generation. Important people. Insurance people, oil distributors, land owners, pillars of their churches and of the community. Nice people. But I always felt a little out of place amongst these Country Clubbers.
Then there was the enlisted men’s table. It had some important people, too, but I felt right at home around people like, say, Willie. Lordy, how I miss Willie! Tell you the kind of fellow he was. One day, the subject of Meals on Wheels came up. At a lull in the conversation, Willie said, “I don’t know. I must be at the very end of their route because by the time they get to me, the Jello is just a little bit runny.”
Dr. Meeks, so-called because he tends to read about and know about what medicines do what and some interesting ways of pronouncing some medical conditions (like p-r-o-s-t-r-a-t-e for prostate) just happened to be there that day. He was riding with Merrell Jones, one of the regulars at our table.
On the way home, the doctor exploded (he was a newcomer). “Who the Hell was that blankety-blank so-and-so. I’ve been try to get my mother on Meals on Wheels for years and there that so-and-so is on it. I know he’s got more income than my mother,” and so on and on.
Finally Jones couldn’t keep a straight face any longer and told him that Willie was pulling his leg. From then on, Meeks let it be known far and wide that Willie could lie with the straightest face of anybody he knew.
Willie was a gentle soul. Certainly no one would ever guess he was a former Green Beret. But Willie could get riled on occasion. One day, he kept trying to tell a story and someone kept butting in. Willie got up, threw his coffee cup against the wall of the restaurant and walked out. It was quite a while before anyone interrupted Willie again.
Willie was also an explorer. He loaded Melba into his pick-up and they made a special trip to Frontier Country, just to see this place I had talked about so much. They even found Mt. Pisgah, truly a Church in the Wildwood. He even brought back a picture to prove he had been there. Said it took him a couple of tries and wrong turns before he finally located it.
Then there was Jones. It took a while, but he finally took a liking to me. He delighted in telling how he came to college, planning to be a veterinarian. On the first day of one of his classes he was given a book of insects or something and told to memorize the Latin name of each. “What in the hell am I doing here?” he asked himself, and promptly switched courses.
A teacher in high school had admonished him, saying that he’d never be anything but a ditch digger … and that’s what he became: a digger of big ditches, with a fleet of big tractors and bulldozers and such.
His wife kept him on a pretty strict diet, not knowing that he would often get a candy bar at Story’s and an order of French fries or a hot dog when he got to the coffee table. Not to mention that he had his own lunch table that he presided over at the Beauregard Diner.
There are more folks I’d like to tell you about. So, “to be continued…”
Bob Sanders is a veteran local radio personality, columnist, author and raconteur of note. He can be reached at bobbypsanders@gmail.com.
There is a group of old men who can be found most any afternoon at the Hardee’s on Marvyn Parkway in Opelika. I have already told you about some of them. But there are others you still need to meet.
There was Mr. Pratt. He took a liking to me. He would give me home-grown tomatoes. For some reason he couldn’t stand Bob Mount, who crashed the important table first, then came over to the peons’ table with “Have y’all heard the one about … ?” Pratt would mumble something like, “Damn college professor knows everything …” Pratt, too, got angry one time. I never did know exactly what about as I was coming in when he was going out. He muttered something about coming back with a shotgun or something. I forget what triggered the tantrum, but Pratt apparently got over it because he didn’t come back.
There was J.R. He’d rear back and proclaim, “I’ll tell you one thing …” There was the Door Man and Barnes and Young and the colonel. One day the subject of El Salvador came up. The colonel idly mused, “How do you get to El Salvador, anyway?” Quick as a flash, Jones said, “Go to Tallassee and turn left.”
As time went along, people started dying. Very inconsiderate of them, I think. As the ranks thinned down, the tables have merged into one, and some days even that one is not full. But people kept on being advanced to the next grade. Even Smith T left us, much to my sorrow. I was just beginning to know what a fine person he was.
Sometimes important people would, and still do, stop by: politicians of all sorts and looks seeking the blessing of the Old Geezers; a mayor now and then; authors; fundraisers and others. The group does have some important people in it, like a retired Chief Justice of the Alabama Supreme Court, a Congressional Medal of Honor winner and Husky, the Lord of Roamer’s Roost.
And there are the the hangers-on, who mostly stay quiet and listen. Come by and have a cup with us some afternoon.
Bob Sanders is a veteran local radio personality, columnist, author and raconteur of note. He can be reached at bobbypsanders@gmail.com.

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