One bright morning a few weeks ago, the warm sun was beginning to melt the snow off the narrow sidewalk as my wife, Brenda, and I walked into Wilmington McDonald’s restaurant for a quick breakfast of sausage and pancakes.
Just to the left of the entrance sat an eclectic group of men and women who meet daily for coffee. The group discusses a myriad of issues, mainly politics, and allows no problem facing the world to go unsolved. Local political candidates stop in frequently, checking the temperature of the electorate by engaging in conversation with the group.
On most days you will find Dave Bailey, Mark Lewis, Ron Young, Sam Stratman, Patty Botts, Glenn Phillips, Carolyn Lewis, and Clinton Massie’s most recent Sports Hall of Fame inductee, Sid Bagford, and others sitting around the cluster of tables discussing the day’s current events. There’s no formal membership. Everyone is welcome.
Some might suggest Don Rickles would feel at home here.
According to one of the coffee drinkers, a friend and former classmate of mine, David Kline, had recently taken ill.
This news made me think back to last summer on another trip to McDonald’s. I was standing in line ordering breakfast when David walked over and played a familiar trick on me. He tapped me on the opposite shoulder, hoping I would turn in the wrong direction. My instincts were right this time, as I turned directly toward Dave’s smiling face.
“Do you remember Dwight Milburn’s birthday party when we were in the first grade?” Dave asked.
“I sure do,” I replied. “We played a lot of games and ate birthday cake.”
As we were chuckling, lo and behold, who would walk in but “Birthday Boy” Dwight Milburn himself, who was on duty at McDonald’s. Dwight told us he goes by his first name Darrell at work. “It is company policy,” he said. He insisted we still call him Dwight, which was OK with us.
We asked Dwight if he remembered his first-grade birthday party. “I sure do. It was so much fun!” he replied.
It didn’t take long before we were talking about our years in elementary school. Dave said he remembered when our third-grade teacher, Mrs. Ethel Gleason, would take a student to the small library, and bestow upon the mischievous student a few whacks with the paddle. Dave said she always gave a hug after she gave the swats. “This hurt me more to do this than it did you,” she would say.
“I wouldn’t know, Dave. I never received a paddling,” I said to the great delight of my classmate. Having known me for almost sixty-two years, Dave just smiled.
Soon, the talk returned to the topic of Dwight’s birthday.
When we were about six years old, we were invited to Dwight’s birthday party. He lived on a country road outside Port William. Our entire class was there – David Twine, Fred Ehlerding, Larry Runyan, David Kline, Linda Walls, Dee Siders, and Ruthie Dudley.
Mid-way through “Drop the Hankie” someone yelled out, “Dwight has run away from home!”
We all glanced toward Hiney Road and there was Dwight running toward Port William. Larry, Freddie, Dave, and I took off after Dwight, caught him, and brought him back to the party. We had no more than settled down, until someone else yelled, “Dwight has run away again.”
Sure enough, Dwight once more was rounding the bend and picking up steam. Again, the group of boys caught up with Dwight, returned him home, and made him promise he wouldn’t run away again.
The next time Dwight took off running, the girls joined in, and we all caught Dwight again. Dwight ran off eight more times. It sort of became a game in itself. A children’s game.
We found out much later that Dwight’s parents had bought him a new pair of Keds tennis shoes for his birthday. Whether the new shoes or perhaps unrequited love played a part in his absconding, we may never know for sure, as some things are lost in the mists of time.
I do know when I arrived home after the party my Mom asked if I had enjoyed myself. I told Mom that Dwight had run away from home eleven times, and each time my friends and I chased him, caught him, and returned him home. Mom just looked out the window quietly and smiled.
Have you ever thought of an old story in your head, but forget why you liked it? And then you remember it again, and all of a sudden it’s new. This is one of those stories.