Tea Bags and Pretzels


A story in which nothing unusual happens, and that's a good thing......


Late February 2002




Even down here, February gets a mite chilly. We know our winter wouldn’t much impress folks from Up North, but we’re not in the habit of asking their opinion much anyway.

This Saturday blew in foggy and chilly. Mr. Henry thought it would warm up enough he wouldn’t need his earflap hat, so he picked out a festive Saturday hat, a dark purple bowler with a multicolored pheasant feather on the left side. It also had a little plain white feather on the right side, to balance things out some.

The fog was beginning to lift a bit as he left home, but he noticed the fuzzy outlines of the still lit streetlights shining through. The fog may have come in on little cat feet, but it looked like the rest of the cat had shed all over somebody’s Orange Tootsie Roll Pop.

Mr. Henry took his time with his morning recycling tour, and it was almost nine o’clock when he got to the Mayflower. It would have been too late for breakfast on a weekday, but Saturdays move a little slower. He took his customary seat at the counter, so’s he could watch Miss Brenda cook.

She waved at Mr. Henry and started in on his order, without bothering to ask him what he wanted. She slipped him into the routine like a juggler adding another ball to the act. She poured a little butter into her small frying pan, swished it around and put the excess back in the pitcher. With her right hand, she grabbed two eggs between her fingers. Then, while she popped four slices of bread into the toaster with her left hand, she cracked the eggs and put them in the pan with her right. While they cooked, she picked Mr. Trout’s waffle out of the iron and onto a plate, pausing a second to add three pats of butter on top. (Syrup is on the tables.) Moving back past the griddle, she added the cheese to Miss Maybelle’s omelet and folded it over, then divided up the bacon and sausage. As she returned to the range, it was time to turn Mr. Henry’s eggs over on her way to get two more plates. Reversing course with the plates spread out in her left hand, she distributed eggs and meat with her right, put down the spatula, and headed toward the toaster and the steam table.

When she put Mr. Henry’s plate on the counter, it made a perfect all points landing, with no rattle. He noticed after she moved down the line that his coffee cup had been refilled.

Two eggs over semi-hard, two strips of bacon, one sausage patty, two pieces of toast, one biscuit, one pack of apple jelly. And grits, of course. Mr. Henry has never actually asked for grits, but then neither has anybody else at the Mayflower.

After breakfast, Mr. Henry continued his rounds under clear skies. As he walked down the tracks behind Bill-Fred’s, Fred called out to him. "Mr. Henry! Do you want this bag of pretzels? I can’t risk havin’ ‘em around here no more, an’ I was just gonna throw ‘em out."

This was not much of a surprise. By now everybody in town had heard what happened last Saturday night. About eleven, when everybody was pretty well loosened up, Leroy picked up a pretzel from the bar and walked out into the center of the floor.

He loudly uttered the four most dangerous words in the Southern language, "Hey, Y’all. Watch This!"

Then he took a big bite out of his pretzel. and started grabbin’ at his throat and jumpin’ around, and then he fell on the floor and thrashed around a bit. Meanwhile, Andrew started dancin’ all around him and yelling out "Killer Pretzels! Killer Pretzels! Killer Pretzels!"

Well, half the guys there thought this was about the funniest thing they’d ever seen. Unfortunately, the other half of the crowd was not amused at all, and some even got a bit offended. Voices were raised, threats were issued, and things began to get out of hand. Fred had to come out from behind the bar just to get things calmed down, and a lot of folks decided it was time to go on home just to be safe. Fred himself decided it was time for Leroy and Andrew to go home.

So when Mr. Henry came walking up by my house, carrying a big pretzel bag, it didn’t take too long to explain. We sat down on the porch and had a taste testing session, and I went inside and got some tea to wash ‘em down.

I expected to get some of Mr. Henry’s comments, and sure enough after a while he said, "The fog is lifted."

While this was clearly a true statement, it was also pretty obvious. I figured he was just warming up and waited for more useful observations.

"We got lots of people in this town that get up an’ go to work every day, and work hard, and are good at what they do.  And they don't much care what's goin' on with the bigwigs and the fat cats. They just go on about their business."

Once again, it was hard to argue with the comment, but I’m used to more from my wise friend than just stating what anybody can plainly see. But I waited, hoping for a real insight.

"Some folks are makin’ fun of the President, and other folks are stickin’ up for him.  Some folks like what he's doin', and other folks think he's headin' for disaster.  Sounds like politics as usual to me."

Well, this was just too much.

"Mr. Henry," I said, "I expect more out of you! Everything you’ve said is just obvious and evident to anybody who’ll look! I’m used to your riddles and silly sayings that turn out to mean something, but all you’ve said today is things that have been true every February I can remember!"

"Well," he replied, "You never could see the forest till the horse had jumped out of the barn and got behind the cart."

He looked at my perplexed expression and said "That better?"

Well, I don’t know much, but I know when to give up. We talked a little while longer and then I walked Mr. Henry down to the road, and he set off back on his rounds.

Walking back up the driveway, I noticed the flag on my wife’s car was getting a bit frayed. I thought "Time for this to be retired." I rolled down the window and took out the little plastic flagpole and took it all inside. I neatly rolled up the flag and put the whole thing in the closet.

I sat back down in my rocking chair on the porch and wondered what the old man had been trying to say.