It seems like the Diner was my first real exposure, my first real life, that I can remember, anyway. Well, wait… That’s all I remember now too. But Edna had nursed me back to reality, and then she wanted me with her at the Diner during the day. I am positive that she just wanted to keep me with her, so I didn’t hurt myself, or get bit by a rattler. Early on, I really needed that care, that protection. There seemed to be so much I was unaware of, and Edna was just concerned.
The first day I went with Edna to the Diner, everyone there thought I was new help or something. Edna had me dress in some of her work clothes, jeans and a dark blue t-shirt. They fit fine, and I didn’t have anything else to wear. I looked like Edna, so everyone just thought. A few times that day, Edna said “No, this is Maude, she is like my adopted daughter. I just brought her here so I can keep an eye on her.” I just sat in one of the booths near the back, and sipped on soda. It was a hot day, and Edna had me play with the fans some. She would tell me what to do with them, the shades and the windows too. Other than that, I just sat and watched. A few ladies came up and talked to me briefly, but I really didn’t have a lot to say.
After a long day at the Diner, Edna was bushed, she said. Edna locked the front door of the Diner, then we walked slowly home. I was still not aware of everything, but it just didn’t seem fair to watch Edna run her frail body around serving everybody along with everything else she did… “Edna, please let me help you some tomorrow” I said quietly. Edna said I always talked quietly. I guess that never changed.
Edna talked as we walked. “Mercy, child, it seems like just yesterday that I was puttin’ that rag on your bump. Of course, I could use the help, but I don’t want you to overdo it either. It was bruiser hot today, and I guess I have just got used to it. Well, I am pretty beat though. Remind me tomorrow morning, and I will have you clear a few tables. I think that will be a big help. Well, it seems I have to do everything from waitin’ on tables to doin’ the dishes. The cook does fine, and takes care of everything he needs all by himself. I wonder sometimes if we push him too hard. Well, I don’t know. I tell him to go as slow or as fast as he wants, and he assures me that’s what he is doing. Anyway, let’s try you out on cleaning some tables tomorrow and we will see…” Once we got home, Edna remanisced for a while, then we went to bed, a little early as far as I could tell. Edna was falling asleep.
The next morning as we walked to the Diner, I reminded Edna about helping her, cleaning some tables. “Yes, Maude, I been thinking about that. I’m not a youngin’ like you any more, and well… I run around pretty good during the day, and I don’t know if my constitution can take a lot of that any more. Having you do some cleaning, that’s probably a good idea. It is a pretty simple job, you just watch the tables, and when folks get up and leave, you just take this big plastic tub over to the table, and put all the dirty dishes and food in it. The food needs to go in the garbage can in the kitchen, and the dishes go in the dish water for cleanin’. Before you leave the table, you need to also carefully wipe the table top down. Keeping everything clean is very important! Well, I reckon you should also get some clean silverware and napkins and set everything up again, and make the table look nice for the next group of folks. Well, the whole point is to clean up after the folks that just left, and get the table ready for the next. Oh, and some folks will leave money, that’s tips, and you should take that and put it in the tip bucket in the kitchen. I pay the cook out of that. He doesn’t want much, but that’s part of cleaning up after each group. And I guess, between tables, if you wanted, you could actually do some dish washin’. The garbage can is nearby, so put as much of the food from the dirty plates and such, into that garbage can, so the wash water will last nice. Make sure you scrub every plate and such as carefully as possible, especially down the openings of the forks, and rinse stuff good. Nobody likes the taste of soap in their food! And, I try to keep it as cool as possible in the Diner. You can take care of the fans and shades, too. Try to leave the shades up for the view, until the sun shines directly in. That will bake the Diner fast, so you need to drop the shades when that happens. And the windows should really be left open all day, but we need to close everything up tight before we leave. And I generally do a ton of cleaning at the end of the day, that’s part of gettin’ ready for the next day. The tables need to be cleaned, then the chairs go up on top, then the floors need to be mopped good. We let it all dry out, then we can lock everything up and head home. Well, I check the bathrooms and clean them if they need it. I should probably clean them every night, but by then, I’m runnin outta’ steam. Well, I think that’s enough to get you started. Soon as we get there, run some nice, clean dish water, and add just a little soap. The more soap you add, the longer it takes to rinse it off, so go easy. And that’s why as much leftover food as possible needs to go into the garbage can first. I usually empty it in the dumpster out back when it is maybe half full. I can’t pick that thing up if it is much more full than that, and I hate to bother the cook with that. He never complains about that, but I wonder…”
That second day I went with Edna to the Diner, I managed to do most of that, and without Edna helping too much. I didn’t know how well I really did, until we were walking home. “Oh, Maude, thanks for your help today. You did fine with the fans and such, even though it was pretty hot outside. Nobody complained, and that is probably a good sign. And we were pretty busy today too. And you cleaning the tables and settin’ them up, that was a big load off me. I usually feel like I’m runnin around madly like a headless chicken, from one chore to another. I’ve seen chickens do that. I feel like it’s a miracle that I get anybody served. But with your help… I could just calm down, and focus on makin’ folks feelin’ t’ home. That’s what I want, anyway, for folks to feel like they are home. And mercy child, not having to wash dishes… That really hurts my back a lot, that bending over an’ stuff. And I think the soap is eatin’ the skin right off my bones. And I don’t think I have a lot of either left. Judging by the tips, folks seemed pleased well enough with your service. And watching you mop the floor just a bit ago… You have a lot more energy than I do. Especially the bathrooms… Maude, you were such a big help. I hope we can work something like that out tomorrow. I feel so much better at the end of the day today, and I just don’t know how many days I have left…”
Well, I was absolutely beat. But I kept hearing Edna say things like that, “not many left”, or something similar… I didnt say anything. I had worked my tail off that day, and that really helped Edna. That mattered a lot to me. She really was like my mom, and I wanted to take care of her any way I could. That evening, she talked until dark, and then we both got some sleep. I was falling asleep this time.
The actual operation of the Diner is pretty simple. The cook is on disability, and couldn’t actually get paid. Edna just let him take what he wanted or needed out of the tip bucket, and he could take home any food he wanted, too. That was fine for him. And the tip bucket was overflowing anyway. During the day, Edna didn’t take any money from the ’till’ she called it, the cash register. She told me not to tell anyone. There is a stack of old boxes in the kitchen, and the bottom box has tall stacks of money in it, bills of all sizes from 1’s to 100’s. The box above is 3 inches deep in change of all sizes. Edna told me how much to start with in the till at the start of the day. The night before, after the cook left, she would check the till, and take out anything above what was needed at the start of the next day. The rest went into the boxes in the kitchen. Edna said she only occasionally needed to dip into that box during the day. She just did it carefully. Edna laughed then, and said that when those two boxes are empty, the Diner would close. Well, the boxes are pretty full as far as I could tell. And we always keep ten 100’s under the plastic drawer insert in the register. That is for the delivery truck. The cook keeps track of what food items we need, and guesses at the rest, and makes the order every wednesday. The next monday afternoon, the truck comes with that order. The money under the drawer is for that. It is usually around $700, but Edna wanted to be ready if it was a little more. The driver was supposed to unload it, but Edna made it clear that was a rarity. Usually, she and the cook did it…
And the postal lady drops our mail off late in the afternoon, then usually gets a soda and relaxes a bit. We get a lot of junk mail, but bills for the gas, water, electric and garbage come in the mail too, and Edna just rounded the dollar values on the bills up, took a piece of notebook paper, wrapped the necessary cash inside, then mailed them off like that. She had done that for years.
We serve a few kinds of sodas, some diet soda (yuck), coffee and water. We usually have milk too, but not many ask for that. The cook uses it mostly. We serve absolutely no alcoholic beverages. Edna always laughed and said when she first got ready to open the Diner up, there were these valve things and such behind the low single seats counter; they were for serving beer. Before the first day the Diner opened, Edna paid one of the men from the hardware store to absolutely rip, and she meant rip all the plumbing for those beer things out. All that was, is left are two shiny vertical things with jagged, gaping holes at the top where the beer faucets were. Edna was adamant that the Diner would never serve alcohol in any form or fashion. She told me a few stories that made me hate the stuff too. Well, she made it clear she had never seen any alcoholic beverage help anybody, but she had seen that stuff ruin so many lives and even claim others. Edna wanted to make a statement with those ripped apart beer faucets. And Edna made it clear she would roll over in her grave if that ever changed. Of course, I sheepishly promised I would never do such a thing. I trusted her about that, and my experience at the Diner just proves her point.
How Edna ran the Diner was very simple. I know, because I was doing it after my first week helping her. And the folks that come in, the locals from town anyway, well they are very patient, and tip well. The Diner isn’t going under by any means. And, in some respects, the Diner was, is a local hangout, Edna called it. Many of the townspeople would often drop by for a soda or a meal, and just relax, visit with friends. They still do, and that was exactly Edna’s goal. Until I came, it was clear she was wearing herself out serving the town like that. I could tell that me helping, doing a lot of what Edna had done, that made a huge difference for Edna; she could spend more time visiting with folks, she said. I was glad I could help her.
1. Maude: Beginnings is copyright 2017 by Shysage.