Parallels, Skews, & Intersections: Breakfast at Memphis’ Graceland Days Inn
I spent the night at the Graceland Days Inn in Memphis, Tennessee the weekend of February twenty second. The Friday before I had driven south from Cedar Rapids, Iowa to rural Mississippi, an hour’s drive east of the city, along with my wife, our older son and his fiancé so as to bury my father. My two brothers and their wives had flown down from Washington D.C. and were taking an early flight back Monday morning so we had elected to say goodbye to our sisters and drive to Memphis to facilitate my brothers’ travel plans so as they could awaken at an ungodly hour rather than an obscenely ungodly hour for their 6:30 a.m. flight.
For those of you unfamiliar to The South saying good morning is considered de rigueur. Total strangers in hotel lobbies will have intimate personal conversations with one another at hours that many in The Midwest and The North consider mandatory silence hours; early morning hours where only grunts and whispers are considered polite to those from parts foreign to Dixie are considered perpetually in season to folks in those states that once constituted The CSA. Having previously lived in The South for nearly a decade and being one of that peculiar species known as “Morning People” I have no difficulty adapting to the rules of morning engagement that are so prevalent south of The Mason-Dixon line.
So it was that my wife and I found ourselves in the Inn’s breakfast area perusing the establishment’s available victuals slightly after 6:00 a.m. when a thin, well built, middle-aged man walked in and to whom we said, “Good morning.”
“Morning,” was his reply as he nodded towards us and began to heap a very hearty breakfast on his flimsy, Styrofoam, disposable plate.
I had finished the banana which, along with a cup of Folgers- it said so on the urn- coffee that had been my first lunge into my breakfast match so I decided to press the buffet with Belgian Waffles that could be made simply by pouring the prepared batter into the waiting waffle iron and counting down the requisite 150 seconds required to transform the lumpy liquid into a taste-bud pleasing tid-bit. I was stymied from fulfilling my desire as our breakfast companion beat me to the iron.
As his plate was overflowing and the waffle iron was of an uncommon design that created four deep but independent waffles rather than one wider but flatter one I asked if he would be eating all four and he assured me he would not.
“Would you be so kind as to make four and I’ll take two?” I asked.
“Glad to,” was his reply and we moved from the good morning round of breakfast conversation to the polite banter portion.
I asked, “Where are you from?”
I smiled and said, “Really? Where about? I was born in Michigan.”
“I was born in Lansing but I don’t remember it as I was born in April and we moved that August. Both my parents’ families were from the Saginaw area. We live in Cedar Rapids, Iowa now and when I say Cedar Rapids folks frequently say, ‘Michigan?’ and I say it’s Grand Rapids, Michigan, Cedar Rapids, Iowa.”
He asked, “What brings you to Memphis?”
I hesitated for a fraction of a second before answering, “I was visiting family. My sisters and their families live down here and my two brothers flew down with their wives and we had a little reunion.” I did not mention that the impetus for the reunion was our father’s death as I felt it would be unkind to burden a stranger unnecessarily with that type of detail. “How about you?”
“I’m a tool and die maker and I’m down here working on a project for Electrolux: Pretty ironic, they used to be in Grand Rapids but the pulled out and moved to Mexico and took thousands of jobs with them and of course we lost four times that amount indirectly.”
I nodded and said, “Yeah, my grandfather had a roofing business and so did one of his sons and I know things got pretty tight when jobs started leaving the state.”
Our conversation went on and on so my wife excused herself and we kept on talking about his two daughters and his son and my two sons. He was about my age and after a while the conversation turned to poverty and how best to combat it as well as the advantages people from more affluent areas and financially well off families have over those that are without financial resources. We agreed on many things, though he was the Democratic Party chairman for his district while I lean more to the right in many cases, and we agreed that education was key to helping lift folks out of the cycle of poverty that grips so many in our country and our world and that those who could least afford education should be given opportunities to receive it earlier and longer at little or no cost to them.
Eventually we got around to health care and from there his father. His dad had been misdiagnosed about ten years earlier and my dining companion felt strongly the doctor and the system were responsible for his dad’s early demise. I was sympathetic to his loss and said haltingly and with difficulty, “I wasn’t going to say anything but the reason my brothers and I were down here was because we buried our father on Saturday.”
This could have been quite a conversation stopper but the opposite is what happened. We shared with one another about our dads and it turned out both had been decorated Korean War veterans, both had been loving men with hot tempers that could flare up without warning and that we both loved and missed our dads.
I stood up to leave and we shook hands. “I’m Matt Jeffries,” he said.
“Keith Kenel,” I replied.
“Sorry about your dad.”
“Thanks. Good luck with your work here and in Michigan and have a safe trip home.”
“You too,” were his last words as I departed.
If we give folks a chance the strangers that are all around us can become our friends and we can gain knowledge and solace from them. We can learn that just because we don’t agree with somebody on every detail that we can still find common ground and share in our humanity with them. I’m pretty sure that’s what my father would have wanted as well as Matt’s.