The tall, good-looking man
who walked through the door of Wimpy’s Café stood out like velvet in a bin
of calico. He was well dressed in a business suit and carried an
expensive, brief case. Something about his attitude made a person believe
he was practicing a discipline that had been instilled from a higher
source. The line of burly men on the stools at the counter barely looked
up from their plates of home cooked fare. The food was what brought the
workers, cowboys, truck drivers and small families into the eating
establishment. Someone always seemed to keep the juke box plugged with
small change and it sawed out country music which always soothed the
patrons, somehow. No one of the help complained about the sometimes
raucousness of it because the pennies added up enough to pay a great deal
of their expenses. In fact, the red nickels, painted with fingernail
polish, left by the owner of the juke box were used to plug the machine
when it stopped for a while. This always stimulated the customers to drop
their own change into the nonsensical machine.
The waitresses in the
jumping little restaurant were so experienced they carried heavy plates,
easily, to their customers almost as if they were in a choreographed
dance. Usually the women were selected because they were past the prime of
their lives but were still attractive with neat, hair styles and clean,
sharply pressed uniforms. These mentally strong women didn’t let the
weaknesses of youth interfere with serving their patrons. How they could
remember what each individuals had ordered was always something
astonishing. Seating was for fifty and usually every space was filled and
often there were people standing, waiting to eat. The waitresses had a
good attitude about this as if to say, “the more, the merrier.”
Occasionally, a young, women came to work who was a good waitress but,
nine times out of ten, she would hook up with a truck driver or someone
else and be gone, leaving a sudden vacant space on her shift. This was
another reason for hiring an older woman.
Velma, the owner, was alert
to anything just a bit out of the ordinary and this distinguished person
before her certainly sent up a red flag. Would he bring good news, tax
problems, legal questions or some other difficult situation? Little did
Velma know of the great changes this man would make in her life and the
lives of her family.
She was Native American in
an area populated by descendants of land rush people, who staked their
claims for Indian land, busted the sod, or branded their cattle with their
mark. Years later someone would refer to her as the little Chinese woman
who had owned Wimpy’s. Something in their minds couldn’t see a Native
American female with the business acumen to successfully operate an eating
establishment where everyone wanted to go. She served up fat, long French
Fries, huge hamburgers, chicken fried steaks, mashed potatoes and daily
baked hot rolls, but it just wasn’t in their understanding that it was the
good food that made the place successful. It was a like a refuge and to
this day some get a dreamy look in their eye when someone mentions the
wonderful food at Wimpys. The three shifts were totally separated in how
they served the public. Mornings were for the early rising cowboys and
farmers who enjoyed the plentiful, bottomless cup of coffee along with
sausage gravy and biscuits, pancakes, bacon, or hot, freshly made cinnamon
rolls. There were never any complaints to be made about the mud on their
boots or shoes. The waitresses uncomplainingly and quietly swept this up
at the end of their shift before they mopped the floor.
Noon was for the working
people when hot gravy over mashed potatoes was made daily along with fresh
yeast rolls. Every day the entree was different and some came on just the
one day when their favorite was served whether it be; Thursday’s, calves
liver, Tuesday pot roast, Sunday’s, turkey and dressing, Friday’s fish,
Wednesday’s Filet Mignon, or the Spanish plate on Saturday.
Saturday nights brought a
whole different group of people to cross over the threshold. These were
the party goers who came to sober up before driving or returning to their
homes. Steaks, milk, lots of milk and heavy foods were on the ticket.
Sunday was another time for
catering to a totally different group. Families came after church so Mama
could have a wholesome meal for her family without having to cook. Turkeys
were always being prepared in the early mornings at Wimpy’s along with all
the trimming of dressing with cranberry sauce and, of course, the mashed
potatoes, giblet gravy and those wonderful hot yeast rolls kept that way
in a moist, roll saver, machine.
The steam table with
vegetables was pulled by two o’clock on week days and that shift went to
dinner steaks or jumbo shrimp. The legendary Wimpy burgers and fries were
like no other served before or after that. Fresh salad was continually
created and only one house dressing was provided. Rosy, the dishwasher
mixed that and she almost did this with her eyes closed. It was a thrill
to see her pour the mixed ingredients from a large gallon container into
small-mouthed containers with no funnel, yet. A long stream ran neatly
into a bottle with never a drop spilled. Not to be forgotten were the home
made pies. Some came in for those alone. Velma paid 6.00 to have the pies
made and easily sold them for 2.00 a slice. There were six pieces in a
pie. Velma kept to her 24-hour-a day-job with determined steps.
“Yes Sir? Is there
something we can do for you?” Polite conversation works for any situation
and it was what Velma used with this polished looking gentleman at the
time who was obviously there now for some necessary business of one kind
or another. If he felt out of place in his carefully pressed business
suit, tie and dress shirt, he did not seem to be bothered by that.
“Well, yes! Are you the
owner? He asked.
“Yes, yes I am.” Velma
“As a matter of fact I
would like to speak with you on a confidential matter?” He handed her his
business card to show he was associated with an organization called,
“Oklahoma For Indians Opportunity,”or shortened to the acronym, ‘O.I.O.”
She knew of their work via
the grapevine but other than that was not familiar with what they actually
did. Although, so complete was this pipeline of information among the
Native people it was, actually, quite dependable. Someone, who did not
know them, found their people’s telling of events were often most accurate
even down to the color of a person’s eyes and the clothes on their backs.
“You have caught us in a
busy, noon rush hour. Is there another time we can talk?” Velma continued
with her cordial manner.
“I’ll need your attention,
when we could sit down for a while to talk. What I need to discuss with
you will take some thought.” Velma respected the man’s courtesy and his
business like bearing. Everything about him made it obvious he had
something positive he wanted to share with her and she was interested.
“What about meeting with me
at my home, tomorrow around two o’clock?” Velma asked. “It will be quieter
there and more conducive to our being able to think without all the
background noise. There is a potential crisis here, ever minute and I
can’t give you my full attention. Yes, I believe, my home is a much better
place to meet. Velma and Lee were always a united-front with their
children and any other decision to be made. She knew Lee would wish to
talk with this man and this is what she wanted.
“Certainly! Just give me
your address and I’ll be there.” He answered.
Velma scribbled off her
address on the cardboard back side of one of the meal ticket tablets and
handed it to him. She was then, instantly busy with an immediate small
As Velma quickly turned
back to the business at hand with her café she spoke to her book keeper.
This woman was not only an accountant but worked as a waitress, cashier
and manager. “You will have to try to replace Vera for the two o’clock
shift. She called in sick.” Velma mentioned this in almost a
matter-of-fact way.“Again?” Marcy, the book keeper asked.
“It’s okay. She’s a good
waitress and brings a following with her. If she makes it by this
afternoon that is good enough.” Velma was a conscientious and benevolent
overseer. Her years of working in restaurants over her life time gave her
an understanding of the ordeals women had to put up with to take care of
their families. It was funny when she fired someone because in a few days
when they came back with apologies she always rehired them. Other places
were always short of help but Wimpys was where people wanted to work. The
payroll was constantly fed with money from the volume of customers coming
through. The tips were good and the owner was gentle, yet firm.
“Order up!” The waitress
called. “Chicken fry, left and right,” she almost sang. Left and right was
café slang to say, “besides mashed potatoes and gravy, two vegetables, one
on the right and one on the left.
Another waitress made her
voice loud and clear so the cook could hear over the juke box and whatever
other noise was in the back ground. “Three eggs, wreck ‘em, toast, side of
pig.” And it was another way to say scramble the eggs and serve with