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Breakfast with strangers

I remember being in grade school sitting at the counter of my parent’s restaurant eating breakfast before school.  Imagine sitting there, eating breakfast every morning with at least 15 to 20 different people. Most children would eat breakfast at home with their families. I was sure they would be enjoying bowls of cereal, toast and orange juice — all around the breakfast table. 

Not me, I sat and listened to town politics, local gossip, and what the latest town character was up to. I watched as plates of eggs, hash-browns and sausage were hurried by — the sound of bacon sizzling, the smell of cinnamon rolls and coffee in the air!

Once in a while during breakfast, the subject of how town politics were being run would come up. One of the regulars would get tired of how town business was being conducted and run for office. None of them won, but one got close when one of the others on the ballot passed away and another dropped out.

Once in a while an overly-zealous discussion would heat up. I remember one guy pushing another off a counter stool and swearing he would never, I repeat never, speak to the other as long as he lived. He even called the police! They were back eating breakfast and scheming together in no time.

I remember two elderly gals who drove an old beat up Ford. Someone would run in off the street and yell “Flo and Clara are headed up the street, move your cars!”! Everyone would take off running to save their cars from the inevitable scratches, dings and dents brought on by their precarious driving skills. I heard on one such occasion they were known to have hit a whole row of cars as they headed down Main Street in Princeton.

The King of the Hobos would stop by on his trips through Princeton; my dad always fed him a huge breakfast before he went on to his next adventure, to wherever it is that hobos go. A state senator was judge of the floats at the Homestead Parade one year, and when the time came for the parade to start, he was nowhere to be found. After searching high and low, he was found enjoying a piece of my mother’s homemade pie at the restaurant. When they told him to get down to the judges podium NOW, he told them, he would be there when he had finished his pie and coffee ... and not a minute sooner!

I learned about politics, business, religion, law, law enforcement, law avoidance, current events and age-old events that got more colorful each time the tale was told. I learned the fine art of practical jokes. I learned the fine art of how to light a cigar and keep it lit – thanks to the used car salesman that would sit at the counter on a regular basis, puffing on his cigar, while he ate his eggs. I learned from one regular patron that no matter how much perfume you wore, it was not a substitute for a bath! I learned that coffee was the essential ingredient to becoming a functional human being in the morning. That lesson has served me well on many, many occasions!

While my parents were busy running a business, I would sit and pretend to read the newspaper like the adults sitting around me. In reality, I was soaking up information, probably a lot more than I should have been. I was getting a real life education every morning before my formal education began behind the school doors. I used to resent not having a so-called normal family life sitting around the breakfast table before school in the mornings. But how many people got to eat with businessmen, doctors, lawyers, bankers, members of the clergy and the occasional dignitary. I have learned that life would be pretty boring if everyone had the same upbringing, lived in the same house, drove the same cars and ate the same breakfast as everyone else.

Ruth Sims is a lifelong Bureau County resident, who currently lives in Tiskilwa. She can be reached at trk3152005@yahoo.com.

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