I scanned the restaurant when I walked in, as I usually do, and saw a man and two women who made my mind stir a little, but nothing really registered.
Nope, don’t know them.
After picking up my lunch, I sat strategically to watch a little of the U.S. Open tennis tournament.
I didn’t know the players, rarely do any more, but tennis was better than nothing.
Besides, that chair put me in a central position from which to scan the room.
One of my methods for locating material for this column is simply to look for it. I’m always scanning my surroundings. When I settle on somebody, or someone settles on me, I listen for that one little note that will turn into a column.
People sometimes ask where these columns originate. Most of them are from memory, but a key is sometimes required to unlock the stories banked in my memory.
Some ask why I do the columns. Simply because it’s fun for me, the people involved and those who read.
I started a long time ago in this business, and though I’m a hard-head, I’ve learned a few things. Most important has been the understanding that people like reading mostly about their friends and neighbors, as well as themselves.
You couldn’t guess the number of times people have said, “I didn’t know that.”
Another thing I’ve learned is, although most of us will be attracted immediately to the fiery car crash that killed five people, we’d rather be entertained.
Good news, they call it.
I love being entertained. I cry at movies about people succeeding at just about anything, especially the true stories, such as Hacksaw Ridge or The First Olympics. I even teared up when Seabiscuit beat War Admiral.
No, I wasn’t there. That was 1938. I was speaking of the movie “Seabiscuit,” which still entertains me.
I was about halfway through my lunch, and I noticed some people stir in the periphery to my right.
Naturally, I looked. It was the trio I spotted when I walked in.
They walked through my line of view and turned left right toward me.
“Are you Ted Escobar?” one of the women asked.
My disguise — glasses and baseball-type cap — didn’t work.
Feeling as if I’d been trapped by the FBI or the IOU, I fessed up.
“I’m Donna,” she said and explained that she was once the wife of a kid friend who is now an old friend.
I must have been in my 20s the last time I saw her. I no longer recognized her. I’m sure she recognized me only from the picture that accompanies this column.
Donna spoke of her appreciation for the column, and I thanked her. It’s for her that I write.
She, too, knew Rosie Luccolini, or knew of her.
Donna turned to the other woman and said, “This is Linda Graham.”
“Underwood!” I exclaimed.
Yes, Donna said, and Linda and I shook hands. Didn’t readily recognize her either, even though I’d spoken with her the previous week on the phone.
I asked if she was a freshman at Granger when her husband, my classmate Merlin, and I were seniors.
Yes. They fell madly in love the first time they gazed upon each other. They couldn’t be separated after that.
“They’re still like that,” Donna said.
I should have known, but I didn’t.
I spoke to Linda when I called Merlin. He wasn’t there, but she was friendly and nice and spoke with me like an old friend. It dawned on me I needed to ask her name.
“Are you a Granger girl?”
I was stunned. I knew they’d been married a long, long time ago. And I thought I would recognize her if I saw her. I didn’t until Donna said, “This is Linda Graham.
I don’t know who won that tennis match, the American or the Argentinian. Doesn’t matter. It was like that car crash that crosses your mind’s path as you look for the good news.
Among other reasons Donna said she enjoys the column is that I sometimes include members of my own family. That’s natural for me.
Even though I grew up with Donna and Linda and the Grahams and McMinimees, my siblings are the backbone of my own story.
We all have a story, and your friends and neighbors like reading it. That’s why I write the Old Timer.