She cut the salad into big huge, coarse pieces. Bowls were stacked high with lettuce, tomatoes, cucumbers, onions. As she filled a bowl, one of her daughters would come and empty the bowl into the food processor, turning the pieces into bite sizes. One by one the vegetables were assembled into salads. All this was done from Sunday night to Thursday night. In the morning, they would rise before dawn, load the food truck with everything that they had prepared and make their rounds.
On the evenings, her husband would cook all of the meats that would be made into sandwiches, tacos and more. As they made their rounds from construction site to construction site, Mary and Charlie would track each item by seeing what was left at the end of the day. They learned what sold and what did not sell. Each site had their favorites.
Mary longed for the days of her childhood, growing up in rural Louisiana with her family. She remembered playing barefoot in the mud in September, when summer was dying and fall was pretending to be there. Charlie had charmed her when he was working on the highway. Everyday, he would make sure to come into her family gas station when she was there, ordering a sandwich and getting a cold drink. He would sit at the only table, one that seated 2. All the while he was eating, Charlie would toss questions at her.
One day, Mary looked at him. None of the other workers were there with him. They sat in the shade of the tree, eating from their lunch pails. Drinking from their big Stanley Thermos. Laughing and playing with the dog that sat in one of the foreman's trucks all day long except for breaks.
"Why don't you sit with your friends and have lunch with them?" She asked, bringing him the sandwich he ordered.
"They have lunches made by their wives and girlfriends. I don't have one of those."
Mary laughed. Her grey eyes danced in the sunlight.
"You should get one. My dad is buying this store from your lunches."
They both laughed.
On Friday, he showed up after work. A first. He asked to speak to her father. Her father, a man named Dalton came from behind the counter, wiping his huge hands on his apron.
"Need a couple of sandwiches for the weekend? Come by each day and we will make them fresh so that you don't have a soggy one."
Mary swept the floor while they talked. Went and got the mop. Mopped the floor. She didn't notice what they were talking about, only noticed that they were having a good time, which was nice.
"Mary!" Her father called out, loudly.
"Yes, sir?" She answered as she came around the corner.
"This fella wants to take you out tonight or tomorrow, your choice. I told him that we are Catholic, so Saturday is out unless he wants to go with us to Saturday service first."
"You asking me out?" Mary asked, looking him right in the face.
"I am." Thought that I should ask your father, first. Respect to him, of course."
Mary smiled. No one had ever asked her out before. No one had ever asked her father for permission.
She looked at him. "Saturday we go to Anticipatory Mass. Wanna go?"
"I am Catholic, too." Charlie said, smiling at her.
Mary nodded. "Ok. Super. Will you meet us at church or come to our house?" She asked, looking at her father instead of Charlie.
"He will meet us at church and y'all will go to dinner afterwards. Be home by 9:30. You know we do a lot of prep work for Sunday on Saturday night."
Her mother braided her hair the night before and Mary slept on the braids so that she would have waves for her date. Her sister, Corrie helped by loaning her a plain white shirt to wear, Jim, her brother polished her shoes.
They went to a small diner after church where they split a plate of fried chicken and mashed potatoes. He walked her to the door, where her father invited him in. Charlie stayed and helped cut up food and prep for the needs of people who would come into their store to purchase food for Sunday dinners. For the truckers that would need their coffee to go. For the train conductor who, every Sunday would buy 3 packs of gum and a piece of fruit with the Sunday paper.
He listened. He laughed at her fathers' jokes. He was helpful.
7 weeks later, he proposed. They were married the next month. "Why wait?" Her father asked, squeezing Mary close to him. "I want grandchildren. Your mother has a whole closet of baby things she has been making for years." Everyone laughed.
The wedding was small. Friends and family. Her wedding cake was tiny mini cakes because of rationing from the war.
In less than a year, a baby came. Over the years, 5 girls would come into their lives. Mary would tell Charlie that she was sorry that she did not have a boy for him. Charlie would laugh. "I have all brothers. I have enough men in construction. Why do I want another boy when I have a beautiful family?"
Years later, life would change. When the construction project started to move farther and farther away from her family, Mary and her husband had a decision to make. They decided to convert a camper into a food truck. It would mean that they could be productive and spend time together.
At first, it was hard. As they learned the ropes, it became easier. They lived happily ever after.
This is the story that I was told by Mary's granddaughter about her grandparents who, in their 90s are happily retired and in good health. I begged her to get the story on tape and transcribe it, because the best teller of the story is the one that lived it. She did exactly that and I was sent a copy. I stripped the personal details for this article, but I am sure that you can see and feel the vividness in the story. You can look up the locations. You can add stories to each of the people, the parents, the children, the grandchildren and so forth.
This is adding depth and richness of color to your family tree. Find your family members and ask them the story of how they met! Happy Valentine's Day!