The General Comes Home

Heads bowed, eyes watering, shoulders slumping, seniors expend every ounce of strength to traverse the pot hole marked parking lot on this snowy November day. It’s difficult for many breathe when 40mph winds gash weathered faces. Black ice paints the blacktop: a nightmare for wheel chaired bound elderly patrons. Determined, as always, they are determined to succeed in safely reaching their lunchtime destination.

Owned and operated by the same Italian family for 3 generations, the emphasis at this local bistro is on food (lots of it), hospitality, and every person for themselves. A tiny reception area serves as the take out desk, and cashier station.

Every day features specials surrounding home made soup, spaghetti, lasagna, red wine, hot rolls.

Wobbly customers enter the tiny foyer and attempt to clutch onto the arms of chairs or window railings-any port in the storm to avoid falling and breaking a tender hip or leg.

A local hangout, customers know each other. Pushing and shoving to get to the front of the line meets with audible disdain. These members of the greatest generation don’t tolerate impatient tourists and strangers. The Villa is their place.. and never forget it.

Brr. It’s cold inside the front door. Smiling waitresses help those with physical issues into a comfortable booth. Reservations are not required. Jimmy and Sarah have their hot tea waiting as they sit down. Regulars? Yes, they have been coming here for 30 years. Hot tea is a sign of respected hospitality.

It’s Veterans Day. Baseball type hats with the Marine Corps logo proudly rest
on bald heads. “Simper Fie” replaces hello. Flirty women in their 70’s whisper “thanks” up close and personal into the weary ears of these warriors.

General Coombs, as he is known locally for his exploits in Europe, slouches quietly in his spiffy wheel chair. He and Jenny, a married couple for 67 years, patiently wait for the owner/cashier to ring up their hand written luncheon check. A young Army sergeant in combat fatigues flashes a big smile, walks confidently to the side of the General. “Happy Veterans Day” he respectfully says in a low deferential tone.

The General loudly replies “Thanks for serving! He shakes the young man’s hand and smiles to Jenny. The ‘kid” becomes weak kneed and tears trickle down his peach fuzzed face. He knows the stories of the General leading an infantry attack to dislodge a Nazi fortified position protecting a vital bridge in Belgium. Coombs led the running charge of GI’s across a bridge desk into the face of withering enemy machine gun fire. Both legs suffered wounds resulting in their amputation.

Here he is, the decorated General humbling saying to a post adolescent just out of boot camp and headed to infantry school. Thanks for serving!.

The diner becomes quiet – almost. The sound of people groaning in pain as they rise courageously from their wheel chairs: wives straining to lift frail underarms supporting their weak husbands who want to stand and salute, breaks the silence.

Rhythmic clapping begins. Slow at first, then faster and louder. A patriotic clapping by the few, the brave. Seniors stand at attention and face the two veterans. Victor, a Korean War survivor of the slaughter that occurred during the battle of Hamburger Hill and restaurant owner, climbs on a cherry red upholstered bar stool and leads the crowd in a reverent chorus of ” God Bless America”. Not a dry eye in the house. Patriots don’t give a damn if they are seen crying in public.