Christmas at the 7-Eleven
by Ricky Rood
It’s finally a little bit cold. In the low land where there is some standing water, next to the creeks, the frost is heavy enough that it looks like snow. The restaurants and bars on the water, the normal morning places of the fishing types, are closed. The charter boats are in their slips. Also closed are the little plywood places, the home of the soft serve and the commuter breakfast.
Open today and every other day is the 7-Eleven. It’s the center of my town, Deale, Maryland.
Deale sits far enough from Washington and Baltimore to matter. We have a few retired presidential aids, some people who build rockets or spy or teach, and a lot of people who make their living fixing things, building things, and delivering things. There are lot of pickup trucks and people who can tow cars and boats and push around snow. Then there’s the group that lives off the Bay in some way or another, most selling, boarding and fixing the play boats of others. A few make their living fishing and crabbing.
Every morning the 7-Eleven is full of the men who do all these things. If you walk in at 5am, there’s a group in the back getting coffee. They have hats, and here in winter, rugged cloth jackets like you buy at hunting supply stores and K-Mart. the kind of jacket that used to be had at country hardware stores. The ones who smoke, sit or stand outside the door with their large coffees, some leaning on the window, some huddled around the big trashcan like it’s a barrel with a fire in it. They talk and nod at familiar faces that come and go. Inside is the non-smoking group. Some migrate back and forth.
Most of the people who work in the store are women. They banter with the men, sometimes crudely, sometimes sweetly. They keep the coffee fresh; they put together egg and cheese biscuits and pile them under heat lamps. The Breakfast Bites are followed by the Big Bites and then Bigger Bites. There are modern Mexican Bites with cheese and meat and dough. They sell Gulps and Big Gulps and doughnuts and cigarettes.
The 7-Eleven is the sole refuge for those compelled to get out of the house on Christmas morning; everyone mixes in the confluence. The men are there as always, dressed like they are on their way to do something that might really need a big truck. They get their coffee and wait for the alarm to call them to action. Locals who are spread across the county on other mornings come in. They talk, exchange holiday greetings. Folks who have come home from some place else walk in, get coffee, and the women behind the counter recognize them, ask about aging parents and new children. They find out that Miss Esther is really not doing very well, forgetting to eat, but is still on her own, and being on her own is what everyone wants.
The parking lot is full, crowded. There are trucks lined around the side of the building. Some sit in the trucks, drinking coffee. The trucks move slow, let the little cars slip through into the parking places. Large men in their cabs, cups in hands, gesture folks past with a wave of their finger. These are men who would come help you. Some write poetry; you learn this when they die and their daughters read it at their funerals.
Coffee, doughnuts and the enterprise of conversation and commerce draw us together. It’s not elegant, or especially pretty; it’s a place of Christmas and family, a mixture of permanence and transience, of those who have come home.
North Carolina native Ricky Rood has had a residence in Cape Anne since 1984. A scientist whose fiction and creative nonfiction has appeared in several publications around the country, he now teaches at the University of Michigan. Reach him at [email protected].