Yesterday a friend came by and said her husband was at the funeral parlor, one of his friends from the Mutual breakfast gang had died. The Mutual is the diner that time decided to ignore. Two eggs and coffee with toast are $2.50, and the booths are dark fake wood Formica. The staff are cheerfully surly and the regulars are mostly retired guys in seed caps.
Jack is a regular (but he wears a flat cap) so of course we were startled, and asked in unison, “WHO?”
Eulis was a Korean War Veteran, a long haul truck driver (as was his son after him) a loving husband and an attentive father. He made trips with his son John until about 3 months before the last stroke laid him low. Eulis was the only guy I ever knew who swore coffee tasted different in Styrofoam cups than in ceramic mugs.
Over the years Eulis never said much to me beyond, “Waaalll, there she is; how’s Mrs. Jack today?” Sometimes he’d say, “You know, your husband’s a fine man, Missy, a fine man.” And I’d smile and agree.
Naturally, Jack loved Eulis.
As we measured out our lives with Mutual coffee spoons, we watched Eulis walk tall and proud, then with a hearing aid, then a cane, and finally a slow, booth-to-booth shuffle, stopping to regain his balance with a hand clamped to each seat back.
His wife Annie was brilliant. “That the best you can do?” she’d goad him when he slumped or rested over-long. Annie used to be a nurse. She’d been married to Eulis many years, and she knew how to keep him standing to the very end. He was a proud man.
And a fixture to us, here in the community. Eulis was as much a part of Mutual mornings as the chipped ceramic mugs he drank from. His cap with the “Korean Veteran” lettering. His wire frame glasses. His quiet, tall presence.
About two months ago a mutual (Mutual) acquaintance came by the shop and said, “Wendy, you know who’d make a really good book? Eulis. He’s got some life story. And he’s such a nice guy. You should go talk to him. I think he’d do it.”
“Sure,” I said, my mind going to the slow shuffle I’d last seen him doing. Step. Hand clamp. Rest. Shift. Step. Annie behind him all the way, holding him up with her careful, aimed teasing. I resolved to find time soon.
There’s an African proverb that says, “When an old person dies, a library burns.”
In his obituary, Eulis made all his fellow coffee drinkers from the Mutual honorary pallbearers.