We drove down the rural roads, passing tiny stores and old houses, most I imagined had been passed down from parents to children for generations. It's funny how a small town like this one maintains a very slow rise in its population. The town's near nonexistent draw to newcomers balances out the 99% of residents that never move away.
The parking lot of the soup kitchen was shared by a Christian church and an automotive shop. As we walked to the entrance of the lunch destination my Nana greeted a chubby woman in her 50s. Immediately after the woman was out of our hearing zone my nana whispered to me, "she's the local puttana." My dad later told me that his means whore in Italian.
Once inside the redone hardware store I saw a crowd of around a dozen people, the mean age about around 70. There were three rows of tables lining the open room, each with about ten metal folding chairs on each side of the tables that were slowly rusting away. For each table there was a paper placemat, paper napkin, and plastic silverware. I noticed that there were actually more place settings than there were chairs where I was sitting, even though there was no more room for extra chairs for the additional place settings. That bothered me.
We were all served au grotin potatoes with little pieces of ham mixed in. We had a side of fruit cocktail from a can poured into a styrofoam bowl. For drinks we could pick apple juice, grapefruit juice, or coffee. And for dessert we had the choice of a chocolate brownie, boston creme pie, or a lemon meringue pie, all one day old donations from Topps grocery store. Of course I picked grapefruit juice and a brownie.
While eating I didn't speak much but I learned a great deal about people just by listening. Debby's easy-going demeanor and sense of humor made me forget about her rotting teeth. That is until I looked at her rotting teeth again. I laughed when she called the local puttana a strange woman that gave her the creeps. She grew up in the city only a few blocks away from where I was born and spent the earliest part of my life.
I met one older man who insisted on showing me and my dad the door that his son had just installed in the dining area. He later made a trip out to go pick up some local residents and and give them a ride to lunch.
There was one guy who I swore was hitting on my Nana. I didn't like that guy.
I was also introduced to a small and very frail looking woman. She asked how old my dad was. He replied that he was 60 and she responded that she was 72 and he was too young for her. Apparently, several decades ago she came home from school one day to find her entire family murdered. Holy shit, right?
The local puttana did turn out to be a strange and creepy woman. She seemed to be the youngest person there besides me. My nana and her had this whole passive-aggressive routine down pat. They would insult one another, compliment one another, give a neutral statement to one another, then finish the exchange with another compliment. After all of that my nana proceeded to whisper some curse words about her to me. This happened a few times before we finished eating. That was some weird shit.
My nana is 83 years old, lives in a house alone in the country, and eats one meal a day. That meal is the free one she receives between 11:00am and 1:30pm each day at the soup kitchen.