Poe’s Cafeteria was nestled in the hills of the Indiana countryside. Every Sunday, a grandfather type walked among the tables in the cozy-timbered building. My childhood memories don’t know his voice, only his outstretched hands with delicate skin.
His smiling eyes.
His burgundy apron.
In the pockets of that apron, he kept a loose jungle of little glass animals, handing them out to children for free. His name was Bill Poe.
If you didn’t see him coming, you knew he was near by the respectful hush that fell over the table. This was the kind of moment where you knew your parents wanted you to be a good girl. “Please,” you could see in their eyes, “nothing embarrassing.”
Bill would take a little glass animal from his pocket and hold it carefully between his thumb and forefinger for just a moment before giving it to you. I always hoped for a dolphin or a giraffe. I would hold mine up in the light and make the colored reflections dance on my skin.
Pool blues and Jell-O oranges.
I always named my animals. I showed them around the table. Savannahs of spoons and napkins. Oceans of clinking coffee cups. While parents and grandparents and cousins and sisters talked, I was teaching my animal about the big, wide world.
What I remember most is how I felt when Bill walked away. I worried about the animals left in his apron. I hated that they were in a dark place, huddled together and tumbling over one another with every step. No solid ground to stand upon.
What would happen to the little animals as they clinked together in his pockets?
To the ones who were chipped in the process?
To the ones with broken limbs?
Even though I knew better, even though I knew they were only pieces of glass, I wondered if the animals would miss each other when one of them was taken away.
All the way to the car in the parking lot.
All the way home in the back of our red station wagon.
I held my animal in my hands. So very careful never to put it in my pocket.