When we first moved from the city to the country, the first person I met was Melrose Dano...always known as just Mel. She made a point of introducing herself even before we were moved in. In the course of the "Welcome to the road. Come up for coffee, " we discovered that she had worked with my father in the early 50's and that was that! I was immediately part of her family and they were part of ours. It was as though we'd known each other forever.
Soon we had a ritual...at 2 pm the coffee and fried cakes were ready at Mel's. She made coffee in a stainless steel percolator - coffee that was strong enough to strip paint and hot as Hades. Not to worry. You cooled the heat with a good splash of heavy cream. The fried cakes were from a local bakery and warmed in the oven til the grease was a-bubble. Yes. she was definitely "old school," top notch ingredients and top notch calories. Oh...and the conversation was wonderful.
Mel had worked her entire life as a waitress at places considered to be quite fancy for the small city just 8 miles away. She had stories to tell about all the "rich and famous" that had the good fortune to sit at one of her tables, usually not flattering but always funny. One exception...during WWII, Mel made some "pretty big bucks" welding Tank turrets at a local manufacturing plant, re-tooled for the war. She was the quintessential "Rosie the Riveter." She still remembered getting that first pay check and how she and her mother had cried for joy at the astounding amount. It was also enlightening to hear of the crap she took from some of her male co-workers and the surprising support from others.... more laughs as she put them in their place and eventually won them all over.
Mel's mother had been a schoolteacher who traveled the State working in honest-to-god, one-room schoolhouses; lodging with local families during her time there. Mel always accompanied her on these trips after the death of her father. Again, the memories and stories she told were a slice of history that could never be found in a book.
As a result of several incidents in her life, Mel had vowed not to marry even tho she had plenty of offers and the rings to prove it. It was only after WWII, when women were back in their "normal" jobs, that Mel met her soon-to-be husband. She was waitressing at a popular restaurant when she saw him enter. In her own words, "He was so homely, he was cute! I had to find out who he was." That was the beginning of a loving lasting relationship that was evident in the way they treated one another. They were a wonderful couple with wonderful humor and affection, telling stories of their honeymoon and early life together. Mel always described him as really "mucho," a manly man. His name was Elmer but he was known to everyone in the town as "Buck." After his death in 1988, Mel lost a bit of her zing for awhile but soon recovered her sense of humor and independence...fending off several widowers who only wanted "a cook and some one to wash their dirty clothes."
To be continued....