Life Sketches by Terry Berkson: Watching progress from the nearby bench

Life Sketches by Terry Berkson:
Watching progress
from the nearby bench

Stewart’s Shops convenience store and gas station in Richfield Springs was moving to the center of town because its location didn’t provide enough parking.

To make space, the building that was previously occupied by Kinney Drug Store and Patterson’s Chrysler and Oliver Dealership before that, had already been demolished and cleared off. All of this activity took place under the watchful eye of Lenny Homes, a retiree who spent much of his time keeping track of village happenings while occupying one of several benches situated along Main Street.
From his seated position, which amounted to a stone’s throw across what is actually Route 20, Homes was deeply absorbed in watching workers excavate the brick-littered ground in preparation for new gas tanks.


That’s when senior Ellen Jones put on her distance glasses, opened her unneeded sun umbrella and joined Lenny on his across-the-street seat.

In a village of only 1,200 they were not strangers. She, too, was interested in the business change and all the construction activity involved, but when she asked her bench partner a question about the earthmoving operation, he replied,

“I’m too miffed to talk.”

“Why, what’s the matter?” she asked.

“I’d rather not talk about it,” Lenny said without looking at her.

“Okay,” Ellen returned in a mildly insulted tone.

“Sometimes things happen that you just want to forget about.”

“I understand,” Ellen flatly agreed.

A few minutes passed in silence and then the watchful retiree said, “Well, maybe I do want to talk about it.”

“I’m all ears,” Ellen responded.

Lenny turned to her while resting his arm on the back of the bench.

“I was watching the work across the street for a couple of hours when I thought I’d take a break and walk over to the Chinese restaurant for something to eat. There was nobody else in the dining room when the waiter brought me a bowl of wonton soup. I’m halfway through when this woman walks in and sits down at my table. All the other tables were empty but she sits down at mine. I don’t mind. She looks okay — and now I’m careful not to slurp. She orders wonton soup like me and in a little while we’re both finished. Then she calls the waiter and asks for another bowl and says give him — referring to me — another bowl of soup, too. Well, I think that’s very nice. We finish the second bowl of soup and while I’m trying to think of something friendly to say — she gets up and walks out. Without paying! And I’m stuck with the check!”

“Who was she?” Ellen asked.

“I don’t know. I never saw her before.”

“What’s wonton soup like?”

“It’s a meat bouillon with these curly raviolis in it.”

“Sounds Italian,” Ellen said.

“No, I think the Italians copied from the Chinese.” Lenny answered. “Marco Polo brought back something like spaghetti from China.”

“Is that right?”

“Yes,” Lenny returned authoritatively.”

“Well, you’ll have to introduce me to wonton soup sometime.”

“Yeah,” Lenny said cautiously. “As long as we go Dutch.”


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