I come from a long line of chatters. Ok, maybe not so long. Alright, if I’m honest, just my dad. My dad is really the only chatter I come from, as my mother was a stoic German.
But he was a phenom at the art of the chat. I was warmly received by everyone from the dental receptionist to the pizza parlor owner, when they realized I was Dick’s daughter. The usual refrain was: “I have such wonderful conversations with your father.”
I mentioned this talent in his funeral memoriam. Chatting appears to be a seemingly minor skill, but it’s not really, in today’s world. Many of us seem to be suffering from moderate to severe disconnection, be it because of the miles between family members, or the screens we prefer to stare at while dining with people with whom we seemingly wanted to share a meal.
My father chatted with doctors and lawyers in much the same way he did waitresses and checkout clerks. There was nothing pretentious about the man at all and I loved that. Politics? No thanks. Stock market? Not on your life. My father wanted you to know who he was and what he had experienced in life. And you were expected to provide the same. No chat was short, so you had to be prepared to pull up a chair and stay awhile. He saw that what we do for a living is just that and no more. It was the basic human experience we all share that interested him.
I don’t believe any waitress within a 20-mile radius wasn’t charmed by my father, no matter how grumpy or tired she was when we were seated. It drove my mother crazy that he was consistently addressed as “hon” or “sweetie”, names she rarely called him but felt were hers alone to bestow.
I won’t eulogize him all over again, but my father was the kind of man who people wanted to like. The kind of guy who would cause our family dentist, a gruff ex-military type (“Novocaine? You don’t need novocaine. That’s for sissies.” I believe I was all of 10 years old at the time.) to show up at my mother’s wake just so he could comfort Dad. Now that was a sight to behold. The kind of gent who would get the extra large slice of pie free of charge, even though he hadn’t asked for it.
Dad never worked the deal. Never took advantage. His interest was sincere and genuine. While growing up, I didn’t consciously take note. I now realize I was watching a master and apprenticing in the art of the chat. It’s no coincidence that I am a journalist and have a natural interest in people’s stories.
When I moved to Chicago, I brought my father’s sensibilities with me. I can’t recall a boring cab ride, as I always uncovered some nugget about the driver’s life that he was happy to share. I still think of Abraham, the short order cook at the diner down the street from my Lincoln Park graystone. On Monday nights, I’d stop by after aerobics. He’d yell out, “The usual, Kristine?” And I’d answer, “Of course, Abe.” I learned that he was working to save up enough money to bring his wife and sons from Mexico. That he’d grown up working in the fields and his mother taught him how to cook. Dmitri, who owned the small Greek restaurant a block away, encouraged me to take my first bite of lamb (I was not a fan) and told me how his family made Greek wine in the old country.
So, as my sons and I were waiting for our food at our local breakfast spot the other day, it was no surprise that Michael stopped by the table. Michael is a server but wasn’t ours that day. “So, Kristine, how’s the dog doing? Has she calmed down yet?” We chatted about Bailey, our new dog, for a while and then I asked him about his search for a new apartment. He shared his real estate woes and talked about his holidays until Alejandro approached.
Alejandro, another server, asked about my holidays and I inquired if he’d gotten to Mexico to see his brothers. He told me about his hope to continue his schooling and I told him of my resolution to brush up on my Spanish this year.
After breakfast, my sons and I stopped at the dry cleaners—a family-owned business in our town. The owner asked me about the trip to see my family in Ohio for the holidays. I asked him if he’d done ok over Christmas, as I knew it reminded him of his deceased sister.
After that, we visited Bob at the coffee shop he has owned for several years. We talked about how he and his ex handled the holidays with their daughter, something he worries about every year.
On the ride home, my son commented on how I loved to chat and how much time it added to our errands. I corrected him. “I love to listen to people’s stories, big and small. Otherwise, errands are just errands. And lonely ones at that.”
He was not convinced of the merits of my argument. That’s OK. My two young apprentices don’t yet realize what they’re observing is good, old-fashioned connection. The chat. It’s making a comeback, if I have anything to do with it.