Two Old Hens and a Pack of Smokes

Part of living the diner life requires one to become an anthropologist of sort.  I’ve spent my life watching the revolving door of small business reality as patrons have come and gone never to return, but sometimes they stay becoming not only customers but friends, and on the rare occasion, family.  As mentioned before, the diner life thrives on the premise that it is the people who make living the diner life what it is.  These are their stories.

Popular culture has yielded famous female duos that are memorable for not only their comedic flare but the loyalty they held towards each other.  Indeed, women have been pairing up for centuries, but the 20th century produced the most memorable.  Lucy had Ethel, and Laverne had Shirley.  If you’re a BBC enthusiast, then you will remember that Edina had Patsy.   Well, the Deerwood Deli created Agnes and Bernice, an elderly couple of friends that spent Monday through Saturday mornings sitting at an outside table smoking their cigarettes and drinking their coffee as if it was the very liquid that gave them the will to live.

Darling Agnes was the epitome of southern sweetness.  When I would come in for my morning shifts, she would always greet me with a loud and cheerful, “Hi, Nikki!”  As I fumbled my way to the front door of the diner, they usually received a less than enthusiastic response from me that sounded like a grunted, “Morning, ladies.”   To say I was not  a morning person was an understatement.  Not much has changed in that regard.  Sweetness radiated from Agnes.  She was a slightly rotund woman with tanned, crepe-like skin that was likely the result of a tanning bed.  Her sheer, ice pink lipstick was always in place and seemed to bleed onto the rim of her coffee cup.  Agnes’ attire was usually very stylish, and her frosted blonde hair was always coiffed just so.  Even her walking cane screamed, “Touch me. I’m fancy!”  Unfortunately, Agnes suffered from a sort of arthritis in her legs and knee joints.  So, moving around was not very easy for her, but she didn’t seem to let it hinder her social life.  The rumor of the restaurant was that sweet, adorable Agnes was loaded, as in swimming in  financial assets.  Both she and Bernice were widows, and it could only be assumed that their husbands left them well taken care of.

Bitter Bernice, as I liked to quietly refer to her, was the antithesis of Agnes.  From upstate New York, Bernice was every bit the Yankee.  She spoke with a heavy northern accent, and rarely filtered the things that would come flying out of her mouth.  She drank her coffee black, and never wore makeup.  Honestly, Bernice wasn’t bitter.  She had a softness to her, but it was often clouded in her brash nature.  The “bitter” title came as a result of the fact that her lips were always puckered as if she had just eaten a lemon and couldn’t handle the sour tang.  Hence, her moniker, “Bitter Bernice” was born.  Her eyebrows sat above shrewd, brown eyes like two bushy caterpillars that badly needed to be trimmed.  She had a slight olive skin tone, and her brown hair was usually presentable but plain.  Bernice didn’t go the extra mile with her appearance as Agnes did.  With Bernice, what you saw was what you got.  The pair of them were glued to the same outside table every day, smoking and drinking as they gossiped about the latest news.  Sometimes they ate, most of the time they didn’t.  For Agnes and Bernice, breakfast consisted of black coffee and nicotine.  Their routine never wavered as though one thrived off of the other.  The pair of them never gave into their perceived stereotype, old widows who seemed to have been forgotten about by their children.   No, they were more than that.  They were women who loved, laughed, and seemed to live for the friendship of the other, and everyone else be damned.

After my father sold Deerwood, we heard that Agnes eventually passed on, leaving Bernice to her own devices.  However, it should be noted that no matter the separation in physicality the spirit lives on in what is left behind, the memories and the love of one old broad for another.