For the four friends, talk revolves around the day’s happenings like the smooth, freshly paved Newton Street which leads to a reminder about a day spent washing a car and questions about getting spots off the finish before meandering to the days gone by and the changes over the years and then, there is a special birthday lunch to plan.
“We just talk about whatever,” Mary Jane Eckert said. “Like, I washed my car this weekend and I don’t think I’ve washed a car in about 10 years. So my car is spotted and I wanted to know what kind of stuff would get it off.”
“Oh, I thought your car looked awfully nice this morning,” Mary Ann Kiefner added. “I wondered if you had washed it.”
“You should see the inside, it sparkles,” Mary Jane said.
The car is black. It’s parked near where the four ladies have their lawn chairs in the shade of the Gutzweiler building next to Midwest Café. This is where they hold their post-walk meeting over coffee and a couple “cupcakes” (or muffins).
With the library behind them, the subject also turns to books they are reading.
“We all share a love of reading,” Miriam Bryan said.
Their conversations ramble over well-worn paths but attempt to avoid turns onto potentially rockier trails. “We don’t talk too much about politics and religion,” Carol Schmitt said. “And one more subject, but I can’t remember it right now.”
Monday is a day to discuss birthday plans.
“I want to go to Chocolate Bliss for coffee and maybe something sweet,” the birthday girl Mary Jane said.
She gets to decide what the four will do on her special day that has been delayed since April because of Covid-19. Now seems safer but they still take some precautions.
“And then we’ll order our meals here and pick them up to take them to The Parklands,” she added. “We aren’t so sure about eating inside a place yet.”
The friends have known each other for decades and continue to meet about three days a week for a long walk on the Riverwalk or at The Parklands. This is followed up with some relaxing at a coffee shop or restaurant to continue talking.
With all of them “at least” 74 years old, The Parklands is the preferred walk since its paths are wide enough to keep six feet of separation fairly easily.
With the bell ringing in the background at St. Joseph’s Catholic Church, Mary Janes explains they really enjoy talking about the old days and the ways things used to be. They are reminded that even though things are different now, the hardships generations past have went through put this moment in perspective.
At least in today’s reality, traditions and rituals have simply had to be modified to allow for this small group’s continued community.
Sitting outside began in March when the four showed up to Midwest Café and found all the chairs and tables closed off to patrons. They ordered their coffee and decided to sit down outside. Todd Cassidy brought them a couple of chairs to help out and took the photo below for posterity.
In the mild August weather, the four are still meeting outside only pausing with short trips into the café for small things like a coffee refill or to preorder tomorrow’s special birthday meal.