A la Mode

Gale Acuff

Down at the truck stop where Ida Lou flips
the hamburgers with her eyes closed and they
still land in the center of the skillet
I go for apple pie and ice cream and
coffee as my afternoon snack until
such time as the paper mill reopens
and I can return to work, doing what
I do best, namely, picking up garbage
and cleaning the bathrooms and polishing
the furniture in the boss's office
and helping load and unload the eighteen
wheelers and roustabouting where they tell
me to. I'm thirty and still live at home
but Mother's dead—though she's still my mother,
don't never forget that—and Father's no
spring chicken, neither. I look after him
though he owns the place. I cook and clean and
do the laundry and mow the grass and wash
his car (a '66 Corvair Monza
with 42,00 actual miles)
and chop the wood and sweep the chimney and
do about everything else you can do.
The Old Man's on a pension so we really
need my income but, like I say, the mill
is closed until the management shells out
for a couple of hi-tech scrubbers for
the smokestacks. Then we'll be back in business.
So most days I've got nothing to do but
nothing, so I do my chores for Father
and fix us lunch and then we take our naps
and then I get up again and ride my
old Columbia down to the truck stop
where, like I say, Ida Lou treats me right
without hardly saying a word, taking

your order and then she's back at the grill
like you never even bothered her. It's no
bother, she says. Just like that. You believe
her and then you slice off a chunk of pie
with your spoon and some ice cream besides and
you wash it down with some damned good coffee.
Sorry to say damned but it's that damned good.
You're not halfway through it when you forget
that you live at home and you're out of work
and you put too much starch in your father's
drawers and serve him scrambled eggs instead
of sunny-side up for breakfast—what were
you not thinking?—and when the mill's working
again you'll never get the smell out of
the clothes hanging on the line. I'm alive
now with all the fruit and cream and sugar
inside me. Ida Lou and I, we're old
pals from high school, at least before I quit
but I would've flunked tenth grade anyway.
She graduated and was voted Most
Likely to Succeed and she's a good cook
and would make some guy a good wife but she
hasn't found the right man yet, she told me
last year when I asked her to the putt-putt,
and said she hates fake sports and likes women.
I'm not sure what that means, the likes-women
part. One of those women's-lib things, I guess.
Her boss is Saul. I asked him, Saul, why do
you call it a truck stop when there's always
more cars than trucks in the parking lot? Who
do I look like, he says. Henry Ford? Joe
Chevrolet? Fred Oldsmobile? I don't know
who he looks like. Himself, I guess. Then I
go home and check the mail and bring it to
Father and he sifts through it and I get
the circulars and Have-You-Seen-This-Child
ads which look like postcards but are thinner
—I work at the mill, so I know paper
even if I only throw it away
or save some up for the recycle-man
before every inspection by the Feds.
Then I cook supper and wash the dishes
and dry them or just let them drain and help
Father to bed and watch some game shows,
Wheel of Fortune but never Jeopardy,
and it's been a good day. I go to bed
and say a prayer for Father and our
President, though I didn't vote for him
—all the guys I vote for lose, so I win
but in reverse—and the mill, and Mother,
gone but not fogotten, like it says on
her headstone. I spend time with her Sundays
—Father thinks that I go to church and I
hate to lie but God's bigger than the truth
or He's not God. And then I go to sleep
and sometimes dream I'm driving a rig and
Ida Lou is sitting there with me and
our little boy between us and his name
is Junior and when he grows up he wants
to be just like her and who can blame him?