While out for breakfast in a tea room in Florida, a lady came through the kitchen door and over to our table. As soon as I saw her walking toward us, I was shocked. She looked just like my grandma.
The closer she got to us, the more she resembled my short, thin, white-haired grandma. She looked exactly like her.
She walked up to our table where our daughter, Cathy, my husband George, and I, were already seated. She walked over to Cathy, leaned in and put her arm on her shoulders and started talking quietly to her. This woman was talking to my daughter in a very informal manner. She seemed so much like my Grandma, I was stunned.
Then, she walked over to George and did the same thing. Who is this woman who looks so much like my grandma? I just had to stare at her. When she finished talking to George, she came over to me and put her arm on my shoulder and started to say something, but I couldn’t concentrate on what she was saying.
Her manner and presence was so much like my grandma’s, I didn’t hear what she was saying to me. My mind was somewhere else entirely. Then, when Cathy couldn’t wait any longer for me to say something, she said, “Mom, she wants to take your order.”
We were there for breakfast, so the only thought that came to me was what I had always ordered at Cracker Barrel. That would be a fried egg sandwich with a slice of tomato and Mayo, on sourdough toast. And a cup of decaf coffee. And as I finished my last word, she turned and walked back into the kitchen.
Immediately, I had to tell Cathy and George that she looks just like my grandma. My grandma died in 1961, so Cathy never knew her and George was new to our family back then. So, they couldn’t confirm my thoughts. She was our waitress and had come out to take our orders. They didn’t have any menus and also she hadn’t written down what we each had ordered.
But, soon, here she came carrying a big tray of food. I didn’t realize at that time, she had gone back into the kitchen and cooked everything herself before bringing it all out to us. She served Cathy exactly what she had ordered, the same for George, and then set that exact same sandwich down in front of me, that I had managed to ask for. Each was entirely different from the other orders.
How did she do that? I had to say something to her about what I was thinking, so, I asked her what her name was. She said, “Mae.” With that, I had to tell her that she looked just like my grandma and that my grandma’s name was also Mae.
Since Mae can be spelled 2 ways, either Mae or May, I asked her how she spelled it, and she said “MAE.” And you guessed it, my Grandma spelled her name that way also. When I told her my story, she said she would be pleased to be my grandma and that I could call her that.
And during our talk, she happily told us that on her next birthday she would be 75. Since it was our first time there, and with no menus, we had no idea what the cost would be. She told us that it’s $7 for each breakfast, no matter what you order. So, we paid our bill and left.
We didn’t get very far down the street when I said that we have to go back and take her picture because no one who knew Grandma is going to believe this had happened. When we went back, she was very happy to go out on the porch of the tea room and pose with me for some pictures.
The tea room was in a large house that used to serve as a hotel back when passenger trains stopped on the tracks across the highway. Now, just the dining room was being used as a tea room. The kitchen was still the big kitchen that had pans and skillets hanging over the cooking area. And what used to be the living room, was a smoking room when customers were allowed to smoke inside.
We were told that we could go upstairs and look around to see how it had been a hotel at one time. They had one room with gift items to buy, and the other rooms were all empty. You could see how they could have been individual sleeping rooms. As for bathrooms, we are assuming there was one down at the end of the long hall.
After we got back to Ohio, I sent her copies of the pictures we had taken of her and me together. I sent a note along, asking her to write back and tell me about herself. Within a week, I got back a long letter telling me of the very hard life she had lived. The next year, while on vacation there, we went back to the tea room, and were told she was in the hospital for tests, so we missed her.
I sent her a Christmas card this year and addressed it to Grandma Mae. We had been driving past that tea room for over 20 years and I always said that the next time we come down, I want to eat there. They don’t serve every day, but when they do serve lunch, you have to eat whatever the one dish is that they make for that day.
Hopefully, when we go back again this spring, we will get to see her, and I can again experience the feeling of being in the presence of my grandma. That would be nice.
Kay E. Conklin is a retired Delaware County recorder who served four terms. She graduated from Ohio Wesleyan University with a degree in sociology and anthropology.