Published: Winter 2012
Volume XX, Issue 4, pp 6-7
ALASKA WOMEN SPEAK Magazine
Anchorage, Alaska
Theme: Season’s End and Closure
 
WHO’S YOUR DADDY?
                                            
      By
Dianne O’Connell 
             
“It’s not easy getting a cup of coffee in this town,” I told my uncle when I reached him via cell phone.  I had arrived in the small Midwestern town of my father’s birth earlier that morning, driving in from the city in a rent-a-car and spending the night in a hotel off the highway maybe thirty minutes out.  It was cool in the early morning. I drove in with my car window down so I could feel the breeze and smell the early morning smells of black earth farm country.
             
“Always remember your peasant roots,” my father once told me, although I wouldn’t exactly call any of us “peasants”, I recognized that my father used the word as a term of respect for what in other cultures might be termed “real people,” as opposed to “Others” – those who lived elsewhere, didn’t understand or respect us or our values.
             
“There is not a single café’, restaurant, McDonald’s, gas station, any place here to sit down and have a cup of coffee,” I continued.  “I’ve been here since 9 AM, and nothing.  How far out are you?  When will you get
here?”
             
My uncle and I were meeting in his Hometown to finish up some paperwork following the death of my grandmother.  She had been living in a nursing home in a nearby community at the time of her death and
the tiny family house had been sold to Others.  One could neither stay there nor get a cup of coffee there anymore.

      
“There’s no place if you’re a girl,” I heard my uncle chuckle from the phone. “Follow the road out where you came in and you’ll see a little green house on the left.  No sign, but there should be a couple of cars in the drive. They might let you in until I get there, if you tell them who you are? I’ll be there in 30 minutes or  so.”
             
“Thirty minutes?  That’s a long time.  What’s the green house?”
             
“It’s the local coffee shop,” my uncle said patiently, maybe a little too patiently.  “If they let you in, throw a dollar in the big jar on the counter. It’s a sort of ‘pay as you can’  sort of coffee shop.  Men Only, by the way.  I don’t think there has ever been a woman served at the Hometown Coffee Shop, but they might make an exception for you. Tell ‘em who you are.”
             
“Who am I?  What do you mean?”
             
“Why you are Jack’s daughter, of course.  Tell Tiny you are Jack’s daughter.  He’ll be the one in the tee-shirt.  Big guy. You’ll recognize him.  He owns the place. If he still won’t let you in, wait in the car.”
             
Well, I was Jack’s daughter.  My father had died a few years before but I had heard him mention his
Hometown friend.  He never mentioned the All Men’s Coffee Shop, however.
             
It was not terribly difficult to turn around in the little town of 1,000 souls and head back out toward the two-lane highway that would take me back to the Interstate.  Just out of town, on the left, was a small house, with three or four cars parked outside.  It was green, so I turned in and parked the car.  Walking up to the door, I found it ajar – inside were maybe three men, all in white tee-shirts, sitting at a table drinking coffee.
             
I mentally took a look at myself.  I obviously had just arrived from somewhere else, for sure.  I would have given anything to be able to loose the shoes – nylons and heels, for gods’ sake – but I couldn’t walk in barefoot.  Taking a deep breath, I pushed the door open, nodded in the direction of the men, and walked over and took a seat at the empty second table.
             
Nothing happened. Nobody moved.
          
I weighed my options. I figured I shouldn’t just lean back and shout, “Can’t a girl get a cup of coffee around here?” I’d have to think of something else.
             
Waiting another half a minute or so, I could still feel the men staring at me.  I saw the expected jar on
the counter and a small pile of cups by the old coffeemaker. Foraging around in my purse for a dollar bill, I stood up, put the dollar in the jar, and poured myself a cup of coffee.
             
“I’m Jack Cook’s daughter,” I said to the men as I passed their table and sat down at mine.
           
“She’s Jack’s daughter,” I heard one of the men say to someone else behind a curtain to the next room. 
A larger man emerged with a couple plates of toast.  Looking at me, he gestured toward the wall,
             
“Your dad’s picture is up there, and your grandfather’s. Can you pick them out?”
             
I looked and saw that the wall was covered with 40 and 50-year-old framed photographs and news clippings
featuring the town’s baseball teams and basketball teams.  Peering at the old pictures, I found my father
easily.
             
“Right there,” I said.  “That’s him.”
             
“How about Jim?  Can you find Jim?”

Moving down the wall, I said, “Yeah.  That’s him.  That’s my grandfather.  These are great pictures. Just wonderful.”
             
Tiny smiled.
       
“”I’ve got something else to show you then,” he grinned.  He lugged out an old county history, the kind that were published all over Americaat the turn of the century.
             
"These are your Cooks,” he said, running his figure down the index.  This column gives the guy’s  “profession,” or what he did.  Most are farmers, but you see here, that’s my grandfather, he was a Chicken
Plucker!  Isn’t that great.”
             
Everybody in the room laughed.
             
“Grandpa worked for the pillow factory, used to be right down the road over there.  There were a lot of
Chicken Pluckers back then.”
             
I smiled and asked what happened to the factory.
             
“Foam,”was his one word response.
             
The door opened and in walked my uncle.
             
“Hi, Tiny,” he said. “How’s the old son-of-a-chicken-plucker?”
             
“I’m fine, Lee.  Just fine.  Sorry about your mother.”
             
“Thanks.  That’s why we’re here.  To finish up some stuff.”
             
I sat back down at the table and said nothing more.  The men continued their conversation about the past and the current state  of matters here in my father’s Hometown.  In a little while, my uncle said his goodbyes and gestured for me to go first out the door.
             
“The attorney’s office should be open now,” he said quietly once we were  outside.  I nodded, got in my car,
and followed him back into town.

 


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