Yeah, this place has changed a lot over the years, said the hunched woman. She sat next to me at the bar, with her martini, shaking the gin from a toothpick laden with olives.
Her eyes were misty green, watery above the large sad wrinkled bags billowing about her cheekbones. “I’ve lived in Hoboken a long time. I used to come here when it was just a dive bar,” she continued, swiveling on her bar stool.
“Nothing like the smell of garlic and herbs” I replied as the bar tender set a large plate of fries before her. She nodded, reaching for a knife and fork cutting the stack of fries as if to slice a juicy T-bone. “Yep” she nodded, “I usually eat healthier than this, but it’s my treat for tonight. It’s Friday after all and I love my fries!”
I sipped my wine and she finished her martini. Half the fries disappeared and her smile grew easy, her shoulders slumped as she eyed my glass of wine. “Aren’t you having dinner, hon?” she questioned as I returned my menu to the bartender.
“Nope, I have something already cooked at home. Just waiting for my husband to get back from work, then we’ll sit down to dinner,” I responded, secretly craving the fries while knowing full well that it wasn’t my night to splurge.
She winked. “You look like a nice person, my name is Joan.” she said, reaching out to shake my hand. Joan proudly told me of her girls, raised on her own after having the courage to flee from an unhappy marriage many, many years ago. “Yes, I raised the girls on my own and when they moved away I though it might be nice to spend my money on myself, you know – retire and all.” she said with a hunched shrug. “But then I went to Florida and I met my third daughter there,” her face glowing like a new mother with an infant in her arms. “Yes, my adopted daughter was around 7 when I visited her house with a friend who was a nurse with social services. I felt so bad because her parents were addicts, the were so into crack – they didn’t really want her. When I saw her cowering in the corner, I couldn’t bare it. I told her to pack her things, that she would live with me from now on.”
Joan pushed her empty martini towards the bartender. She had her fill of fries too. “You should have seen her the first time we went out to dinner,” she continued, “she ate like a hungry man, an entire steak, baked potato, mounds of salad – you name it. She had never eaten in a restaurant – EVER!” I nodded in total belief. “So I legally adopted her right after that, I decided then I would raise her. I thought it would be piggish to spend all my retirement money on myself – what would I do with it all alone?”
I grinned, lifting my glass to Joan. “Sounds like she’s been a real comfort to you over these years, sounds like you’ve helped each other out a lot, how wonderful for you both!”
Joan laughed and flashed a toothy smile. “She said I was her angel and over the past years she’s been mine too.” Joan’s eyes crinkled in the corner like a worn change purse. “Now we cook a lot at home and she loves empanadas and lasagna. I love to cook and my daughter is a healthy eater. She’s at soccer practice tonight – that’s why I’m having my weakness, the fries! One thing that I’ll never forget though… Joan murmured as I stood from my bar stool and reached for my purse. “She said that she only had one regret… I paused and cocked my head. Joan leaned forward.
“That she never came from my belly,” Joan whispered, her eyes moistening.
“Oh?” I replied, giggling a bit in my surprise.
Joan shrugged again and responded, “Well I told her the way she became my daughter was even better, because I chose to have her. I picked her!”