by Ken Reynolds
Theron’s family has been in these mountains for generations. He went away to college, but didn’t like working for other people. He’s now a handyman. Theron has been to our house dozens of times to make repairs, or to correct my do-it-yourself mistakes. He also provides special insights into life, as he sees it.
Last week, I asked Theron what he thought of the Wall Street Occupiers.
“Ought to vote,” he said.
“Those folks believe the government and capitalism have failed them. They are willing to get arrested or maybe injured to make their point. What do you think about that?”
“Come on Theron, you know Americans have a history of protesting to change things. We had the Boston Tea Party and the Civil Rights Sit-ins. Don’t you believe in protests?”
“Believe they happen. I was a kid during the sit-ins.”
“How about the demonstrations against the Vietnam War? Did you want to get drafted?”
“Joined the Army.”
“That was a brave thing to do.” I knew Theron was bitter about Vietnam, but I thought he had been drafted and I tried to change the subject. “Is there anything else you believe is worth getting arrested or risking your life for?”
Theron tilted his head to one side. He looked at me for a few seconds, then shrugged and returned to his sawing. He finished the cut and said, “Breakfast.”
“You believe in breakfast?”
“Breakfast is as important as anything. It’s gotta be eggs over-easy with sausage, grits and Merita white bread toast for breakfast. Then I want coffee with Carnation milk and two spoons of sugar. That’s the way Mama always made breakfast and I still want it that way.”
“That’s not too hard to get.”
“My ex-wife didn’t care about breakfast. Didn’t matter to her one bit. One day she told me to fix it myself.”
“You got a divorce because your wife wouldn’t cook breakfast?” Didn’t you know how she felt before you married her?”
“Nowadays people live together before they get married. A man has a half-way decent chance of finding out ‘fore it’s too late if a woman will fix breakfast. When we was dating she wouldn’t even get in the back seat. Never even thought about living together. I didn’t know what she thought about breakfast.”
“So now you cook your own breakfast?”
“Most days I eat breakfast at the Waffle House. I like it there cause they always smile and say good morning. Makes me feel good.”
Theron was not smiling. I asked if he would risk his life for breakfast.
“One night a bad ice storm was coming down. I kept wakin’ up worrying ’bout sliding off the road. ‘Bout four o’clock I got up and drove to the Waffle House. They said good morning and smiled just like they do when I get there at seven o’clock. Left a big tip.”
“Would you risk getting arrested for breakfast?”
“One time some punk started talking mean to his waitress. He made me mad, so I went over and whispered he better shut-up and talk nice. And I told him what was gonna happen to him if he didn’t.”
“The deputy sheriff was at the Waffle House eating breakfast. He’s always looking for a reason to lock me up.
“He’s my ex-wife’s brother.”
I decided to go back in the house, and turned to leave Theron to his work, but as I started up the steps he said, “There are two things I don’t like about the Waffle House.”
I had to know what the two things are.
“They don’t make their toast with Merita bread, and they don’t have Carnation milk for my coffee.”
“That’s too bad, but nothing is perfect.”
“It don’t bother me a whole lot though.”
“That’s good. Breakfast is what counts. I’m not sure I could tell one brand of canned milk from another.”
For the first time in our conversation I saw a little upturn at one side of Theron’s mouth. He said, “The folks there always say hello. That’s company policy. When the waitress brings my breakfast she has to say something nice. You know, like, ‘Enjoy your breakfast.’ Even if she’s my ex-wife, and she don’t care about breakfast.”