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Defying Death, Hell and High Water—the Wendy’s Bunch Reloads

It’s been a spell since I updated my readers on the Wendy’s breakfast bunch and their goings-on, so I decided to take this occasion to make amends.  The Mission “weed patch” to the east of the Wendy’s location still flagrantly displays its green glory, all efforts at revitalizing the construction project having so far slid into the tank.  At least the recent floods revealed the area stayed high and dry, thanks to the water diversion improvements that did get done.  The Wendy’s smiling counter servers have changed faces some, but they all still honor the expired coupons, which keep me in the one-dollar range for sausage and eggs.  As for the breakfast bunch, time has taken some beyond to eternity’s side; busted hips and strained this or that have rendered others out of action (like the sage of Johnson County, the venerable Clarence D.), but a new crop, it seems, keeps sprouting up to maintain the continuity of elderly insight and mutual understanding.

We’ve now got a priest what joins in on his days off from Godly duties, portly Father Matthew.  But he never comes wearing his collar—usually Bermuda shorts, tennies and Hawaiian short sleeves—and instructs everybody not to address him as “Father.”  Just plain old “Mat.”  He also plays a ukulele with some group, I hear tell, but he never brings it to the breakfast confab.

Ethel is still thriving, studying her astrology and consulting the stars, which really came in handy with the recent solar eclipse.  She divined the net result would be a harmonious effect amongst folks, but likely nothing so extreme as the Second Coming.  Mat didn’t challenge that, so I felt reassured that I still had some runway left to work on the betterment of my soul and avoid the fires of Hell.  And Ethel’s latest inspiration was deciding to get a facelift.  By golly, she had it done a week ago and a couple days after she motored into the Wendy’s drive-thru, waving at us from her car and looking like a mummy with all the bandages.  Don’t know what we’ll have when the wrappings all come off.

The most amazing addition to the group, however, has to be 88-year-old Hal.  He shuffles in wearing a headscarf, beads, a tooled-leather vest, tan wash-and-wears and sneakers, all complementing his scruffy gray beard.  Still has most of his teeth and doesn’t use a cane yet, but he can’t bend down too far.  He can talk nonstop and squints when he speaks like he’s visualizing whatever he’s saying.   Claims he was married seven times to six different women, has worked every job imaginable, and lived all over the country.  His daddy was a drunk and died early, but his stepfather was a good man once he quit robbing banks and got out of prison and married his mom.  (He was buddies with Pretty Boy Floyd once.)  Hal attended a conservatory as a young man and even now devotes a good bit of effort to setting poems to music.  He worked up one I’d written years before and I had the church pianist give it a go and she confirmed it did indeed sound like what the poem was expressing, but you couldn’t prove it by me.

We got onto the subject of politics one morning, just him and me, and he related at one time he belonged to the Objectivist movement, being a big admirer of Ayn Rand and her writing.  However, he asserted, that now, if he had his choice, he’d support Bernie Sanders for president if Sanders would take on Jill Stein as VP.  How in the heck did you get from there to here, I asks him, seeing a good bit of inconsistent irony in his views.  Because, he says, I decided capitalism doesn’t work!   And that was that.

Hal drives an aging blue van, loaded to the roof with clutter and transports small samples of his homemade wine to share with friends.  And, speaking of wine, he confided recently that now was about the season people started giving him money or paying forward at a food counter, thinking apparently he’s homeless or a wino.  The week before, some woman on the street, out of the blue, handed him a twenty-dollar bill and said, go get yourself a drink.

Hal was drafted during WW II; however, while he was waiting to report to an installation for training, they dropped the big bomb on Hiroshima and that put a monkey wrench into the induction mechanism.  He was shown on record as in service, but he never reported anywhere, and eventually was mustered out on paper and given all the GI benefits.  One more instance of where luck seems to follow Hal a good deal.

One of his wives was quite wealthy and they moved to California and lived the high-life, although Hal always had a job since he didn’t want to appear a “kept man.”  (One of his positions was a night clerk in a flop house mainly preventing people from sleeping in the tubs in the hall bathrooms.)   After he divorced that wife, she committed suicide.  Not, he said, because of him.  It’s just that money can’t buy you happiness.  Well, I suppose that’s true, I replied, but I’d like the opportunity to test that out for myself sometime!

He’s a sports fan and a big backer of the Chiefs and flies a tattered Chiefs flag above his van.  In the past he was personally acquainted with some of the greats and some of the not-so-greats like Arthur Rubinstein and the Greenwich Village writer Barnell Bodard.  Hal had a son with his second wife and a daughter with his third, but due to real or imagined slights, he explained, they both abandoned him long ago.  He hasn’t seen either in 25 years.  And he’s accepting that’s the way it’s meant to be.

He related as how he had a dear friend, a woman he’d known since high school when he was picking cotton in Arkansas, who may have held out hope they’d someday romantically get together, but, as Hal phrased it, there was no chemistry there physically for him, so he never married her.  However, between wives, he could always count on her friendship, over all the years, to help him through the hard emotional times.

It seems to me the real takeaway with Hal is about how to live a long happy life.  Don’t lose your head over any one woman.  Keep a terrific sense of humor.  Don’t take politics too seriously one way or the other.  Be true for the duration to who you are and abide those decisions what aren’t yours.  Make some music along the way.    And, ferment your own wine.  Just the way you like it.

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Mark Scheel
Mark Scheel grew up in east-Kansas farm country. He attended both Kansas State University and The University of Kansas, majoring in psychology and English. Prior to writing full time he served overseas with the American Red Cross in Vietnam, Thailand, West Germany and England, taught at Emporia State University and was an information specialist with the Johnson County Library in Shawnee Mission, Kansas. His stories, articles and poems have appeared in numerous magazines including The Little Balkans Review, Kansas Quarterly, The Cincinnati Poetry Review, The Kansas City Star, Heritage of Kansas, Samisdat, and Poet as well as many sites online such as Common Ground News. His literary activities have also involved membership in The Kansas Authors Club, a seat on the board of directors for Potpourri Publications Company and an editorial position with Kansas City Voices magazine. He co-authored the book Of Youth and the River: the Mississippi Adventure of Raymond Kurtz, Sr., and his collection of stories and poems, A Backward View, was awarded the 1998 J. Donald Coffin Memorial Book Award. His most recent book is titled The Pebble: Life, Love, Politics and Geezer Wisdom.

11 comments to Defying Death, Hell and High Water—the Wendy’s Bunch Reloads

  • Married 6 times to 5 women? Your friend has certainly explored the institution thoroughly. Of course, my ex is on husband #4, and she’s not even 50 yet. Some people just can’t stand being unmarried, I guess.

  • Hello Ricardo!

    Good to see your comment. Number four, huh? Where did you figure in the series? Yeah, you’re probably right. And you have no idea of the additional experiences and details I didn’t have room to include. This guy’s a treasure trove of stories.

    Looking forward to your new novel getting out there.


  • Don Frankel


    This guy reminds me of a line from a country song if I remember it right. “He’s a walking contradiction partly truth and partly fiction.” I don’t mean fiction in the sense that he’s making things up. There’s a whole lot of truth in fiction as we all know. I mean it in how it relates to story.


  • Don,

    Yep. You’re on the mark. The guy is a walking “novel,” and, no, it doesn’t strike me he’s making anything up. When you begin doing a formal interview and taking notes, you get a clearer idea if somebody’s BS’ing you. The guy’s real, but certainly unique. Ha.


  • mistermuse

    Well, I must say Hal is indeed a lucky man, having survived six marriages to five women….and he’ll need to continue to be lucky, being a Bernie Sanders and Jill Stein supporter in red country. Hopefully he supplements his luck by packing heat and keeping a shotgun handy in that “aging blue van.”

    You didn’t mention if Ethel is married, but if not, I wonder if there’s an opportunity there for Hal’s seventh marriage — assuming he doesn’t head for the hills, such as there are in Kansas) after she takes the wraps off? 🙁

  • Muse,

    Well, I don’t recall any mention of firearms coming up in the conversation, so he may be vulnerable there. As for Ethel, a much earlier post–one of The Pebble series–tagged her as a widow. Her husband had leaped into the Grand Canyon. But Hal’s probably a little far down the road for her taste. LOL

    Thanks, Muse, for the input.


  • With apprehension, I have to wonder what you mean by “High Water”. There has been some very damaging high water hereabouts lately, and I’m not talking about Houston. While the Mission “weed patch” stayed high and dry, they were not so lucky a few miles south across the state line where a line of retail shops were virtually wiped out. A friend who lives in the southwest corner of the county on land where he was “born and raised” lost a couple of trailers to flood waters, said he had never seen levels like this before.

  • Hi Emliye,

    Thanks for commenting. Much appreciated!

    I’m using the term “high water” partly to compose a catchy title using the old expression “hell and high water.” Also, I’m only focusing here on the Mission area and the Wendy’s regulars meeting there, not other parts of the metro. The post isn’t about flooding. Although I do intend some irony conveyed in a sense that the “weed patch” is a humongous failure in so many ways, but, although there was “high water” in parts of Mission, it didn’t affect the “weed patch” or the Wendy’s establishment. Yes, terrible losses in other places and something must be done to correct that!

    Have a most happy Labor Day weekend! 🙂


  • NOTE TO READERS: A retraction and correction made in text! After Hal read the post, he clarified that he’s actually been married SEVEN times to SIX different women. Edit made and apologies are hereby extended to whichever wife was omitted!


  • Don Frankel


    You are obviously concerned with getting the facts right and if you have to admit you made a mistake, so be it. This is why this site and a few others are superior to so called msm.


  • Don,

    Absolutely! Thanks, Don. I’ve discovered long ago that doing interviews or profiles is a minefield as regards to getting facts exactly right. And often today people can’t even agree on what is factual or what facts should be revealed. But–I’m dedicated to trying my best. Trust is golden to me, both as a person and as a writer.


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