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Seeing life through steam from a hot cup of coffee

Eating breakfast alone isn't good for the appetite.

The opinion stems from the farm, where breakfast was the most important meal because the day's labor often meant another meal wouldn't be eaten until supper. Mother's stick-to-the-ribs menu included pancakes stacked skyscraper high, bacon cured in an aromatic wood smokehouse that had been built by her father and eggs fetched from straw-bedded nests. She, like many of her generation, put egg shells in the brew pot to reduce the coffee's bitterness. Mother knew how to stretch the coffee grounds in bad times. In the Great Depression, barley was cheap and plentiful, coffee beans weren't.

Kathy's barking dog — Gypsy is her dog and not mine when it is a nuisance  — awakened me before dawn on a cold morning. I could scramble two eggs, make toast and brew the Hawaiian blend coffee that Scott sent me from his winter vacation. Although a barking dog didn't wake her, coffee's aroma and frying things easily do. She had worked late the night before.

Breakfast at Omar's

I decided to go uptown to Omar's. The coffee and food are good there. Better still, when the spirit is awash in gray dullness, is the conversation and laughter. The early-morning crowd includes Scott, Dave, Marv, Al and Joe. Waitress Tammy shows us cellphone photos from the bowling tournament while she pours coffee. She bowled better than ever when she bowled over 200.


Marv says Monday's temperature will top out at 80 degrees, but that's because he's embarking on a trucker's trip to the Carolinas. Joe reminisces about a schoolyard fight that left him with a broken nose. Al says he won't give me loan based on my good looks and obvious charm. And Dave says that somehow or other my tie appears to be inside out and my shirt isn't tucked in. On this morning, Dave is filling in for my wife in keeping me presentable.

Omar emerges from the kitchen with a coffee cup in hand. He is a whirling dervish who seems happiest when he's running behind schedule. Omar is worried because his wife is sick and there is so much to do.

Friends gather here to talk, laugh, share news and brace for pressure that a work day can bring. There isn't any new news, which isn't that unusual in a small town.

It's been a year since they reopened the restaurant. We offer congratulations and hopes for continued success. We want the restaurant to succeed almost as much as they do because a small town without a restaurant is less than what it can be. It's good to see Main Street filled with vehicles again on Friday nights and Sundays.

Small town life

West Concord is like many other small towns. On Saturday nights in the 1950s and 1960s, it was a busy place, with people buying things at the grocery, hardware and clothing stores. The chrome-laden cars and farm pickups left when the lights seemed brighter in Rochester and Owatonna. The town's population is about the same as it was in the Eisenhower administration. The farm families who once lived in homes on each quarter section are all gone, replaced by bigger farming operations.

Some Main Street buildings stand empty with leaky roofs; others are occupied by people who have started small businesses. The school closed a couple years back, and some said the reason for the town's existence went with it. There are too many homes for sale and not enough buyers.

Such pessimism has been replaced with hope.


A farmers markets operates in the small park next to the gas station. The swimming pool gives kids something to do on humid days. A tower has been built in the park to house the bell that once alerted residents about coming severe weather. The old school is home to a growing business. A new church was built just a couple years ago. Momentum and optimism builds.

Small towns and big cities have one thing in common — what makes both great is the people. It's sometimes a struggle to hold on to what we have while progressing to an uncertain future.

We who are drinking coffee on this gray morning, and everyone else, need to remain hopeful that someday our children and grandchildren will decide that their hometown is a special place. Roots, even in our nomadic society, provide meaning and strength.

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