French Silk Pie
By Chris Garson
Copyright Chris Garson 2014
Starved, I headed straight for the counter rather than wait for a table at the Bob Evans restaurant. Courtney, an attentive girl with eyes blue as the country sky and skinny as a skim latte, checked on me within seconds of sitting down. Attractive too, she could have gotten by with half as much make-up.
“Diet Coke, please.”
Pretty Courtney brought my drink right away and asked if I was ready to order.
“Pot roast hash, with poached eggs.”
“Basted?” she countered, but I was already nodding. I’d eaten pot roast hash at Bob Evans enough times to have known better. When I was young, my grandparents took me to the country club, where they shirred the eggs. I couldn’t tell you how to shirr an egg if my life depended on it, but luckily, it doesn’t. Poached, basted, shirred, what’s the difference? You could dump a fried egg on top of my hash and I’d be happy as long as the yolk ran. Soft, runny yellow seeping between the shredded meat and potato, that’s what keeps it from getting too dry. That what makes it so yummy.
Courtney brought over my hash, left the check, and asked if I wanted another Diet Coke. Two minutes later, she stopped by and asked if everything was prepared to my satisfaction. Though I hadn’t taken a bite, I had stabbed the eggs. The yolks were runny, just like they should be. I nodded my approval.
I was so absorbed in my hash and the book I was reading on my iPad that I didn’t notice the old man sit down next to me at the counter. It wasn’t until he spoke that I registered his presence.
“I’ll have a piece of French Silk pie, please,” he said to Courtney.
“Of course, sir. I’ll be happy to get that for you. Would you like something to drink?”
“Ice tea, please.”
She went to get his drink and I gave the old man a glance. I guessed him close to my father’s age, but the years hadn’t been kind to him. Thick hair, gun metal grey with white streaks, topped his head and his eyes sagged heavy, like a worn out sofa cushion. Heavy to the point of obesity, he dressed in farmer jeans and an over-sized grey Armed Forces sweatshirt, a very appropriate choice for Veteran’s Day. A thin band of gold circled his wedding finger, but he had that tired look shared by people who’ve been on their own a long time. His swollen fingers were cracked and blistered. One hand, thick like a muffin, held a pair of eye glasses, but instead of using them he squinted at the menu. Nearsighted or proud, I wondered.
Courtney brought him his iced tea.
“That’s very nice of you,” he said to her. “Giving veterans free food today.”
Her pretty blue eyes bunched up, stretching her black eyeliner into a uni-brow. “Excuse me?”
He clasped the glass of tea with both hands, as if daring anyone to try and take it from him. “The free pie. It’s nice to know people still care.”
“Free pie?” Those still bunched, clear blue eyes clouded over like a rainy day.
“It was in the paper. That’s why I’m here. For the free pie.”
“Let me check with my supervisor, sir.” Courtney’s uncertain tone caught my ear. I looked up from my iPad, unable to read and eavesdrop at the same time.
She whispered to a mustached man barking out orders to the kitchen and handing out dishes to waiters swooping in like bombers on a run. The man in charge wore a red button down, black slacks and a name tag carrying the important designation of manager and, less importantly, the name Carl.
Courtney went to check on a table in desperate need of a new ketchup bottle. The manager sauntered over to the counter and approached the old man next to me with a warm, genuine smile. I could see Courtney watching from a distance. Through the thick layer of make-up, I couldn’t tell if her concerned stemmed from the tip she might lose or the old man’s dining experience. I gave her the benefit of the doubt.
“Good afternoon, sir. How can I help you?” the manager asked the old man pleasantly.
“I’d like a piece of free French Silk pie,” the old man said. “Like it said in the paper.”
The manager pointed to a table tent on the counter I hadn’t noticed. I hadn’t even bothered to look at the menu. What was the point? I only came to Bob Evans when I was in the mood for pot roast hash. “We do have free hotcakes for Veterans Day, sir. As many as you can eat. Can I get you some?”
“But I want a piece of French Silk pie,” the old man repeated.
“I’m very sorry for the misunderstanding, sir,” the manager answered. I could tell he was embarrassed for the man, in a good sort of way. Courtney watched from afar, also concerned.
The old man put on his glasses and read the table tent. His posture slumped like a punctured tire. “I’m sorry,” he mumbled. “I thought …”
“Are you sure I can’t get you some hot cakes,” the manager asked, almost pleading. I could tell he wanted to help out the old man, but Bob Evans policy dictated free hot cakes. “It would be my pleasure.”
“No thanks,” the old man said with a resigned sigh. His hand reached down in an unconscious gesture and touched the pocket of his jeans, where I saw the very thin bulge of what might have been a wallet. “They give me gas. Just the ice tea, I guess.”
“As you wish, sir. If you need anything else, just tell Courtney.” The manager turned on his heels and made for the kitchen. After a few steps, he stopped and started to turn around, but then he changed his mind and hustled out of sight.
“When did you serve?” I asked the old man.
“Germany, 1955 to 1963,” he said proudly, straightening a little. “There was this little place on the banks of the Rhine. Gasthaus Weissbrau I think they called it. They had great French Silk pie.”
“That’s about when my dad served. He went through basic at Fort Knox.”
“Really? Me too.” The old man nodded and flashed me a crooked grin, like we’d served together at Wiesbaden.
Maybe my father had known the old man? They were close to the same age. Their lives had certainly taken different paths. My dad built a business after leaving the Army, sold it, and retired to Arizona with my mother. He plays golf every Tuesday and Saturday, has massages on Wednesdays and only drives the Mercedes when the forecast calls for clear skies. The old man sitting next to me wore his RTA pass on a lanyard around his neck. He certainly deserved better, every day, but especially today. I waved the manager over. “Carl, get this fine man a piece of French Silk pie, please. Put it on my bill.”
Carl broke into a smile. “Are you sure, sir?”
Courtney brought a huge slice of French Silk pie and set it down in front of the veteran. As she left, she blew me a kiss.
I turned to the hungry, old man. “Thank you for your service, sir. Thank you for keeping America safe.”
His eyes twinkled with gratitude.
I finished my meal and it was the best pot roast hash I ever tasted. I paid my bill, including a generous tip for Courtney, and left the restaurant. On the way out, Carl shook my hand and thanked me. I never learned the old man’s name.