Excerpt

Every Saturday morning the Dog Girls met at Ory’s Diner for an early breakfast. They told rambling stories and laughed a lot. They talked about hard times, tedious husbands, weather, crops and how to take care of day to day stuff.

“For that kind of nicker, I’d check the carburetor,” one of them said once — they took good care of their cars and trucks.

“You don’t get much benefit out of medicine if it tastes good.”

“How often do you give that old dog Pepto Bismol?”

“Men are best at being grandfathers and brothers.”

“Ain’t it the truth,” I’d say as I set their plates down in front of them. “Fellas around here treat you like you was dirt one minute and then expect you to sleep with them the next.”

They talked about their animals a lot. They treated them like people, with respect and affection, and treated people like children, with patience and kindness toward the nice ones, and sternness toward others. Some folks, like Sam Ralston, they totally ignored. Sam is a local trucker and he was always trying to hit on the Dog Girls, but they acted as if he wasn’t there. Sam didn’t actually notice because he really wasn’t all there anyway. They openly flirted with Ory’s boy, Alfie, a shy 15 year old who came in to bus for us on the weekends. The flirting was all very innocent, meant to give Alfie some confidence. Everyone admires Dog Girls and all men desire them, whether they admit it or not, so it sure gave Alfie a reason to hold his head up.

I have to say that they gave my soul a flutter also, feeling swallowed up by them hills and like I was never gonna see anything of the world outside before the Dog Girls come into Ory’s. I am the youngest waitress at Ory’s, just 25 last birthday. I got the job when Lully Kemp ran off with that trucker from Kiski. It was the biggest scandal around here since Millard Harden shot his wife and boy on Easter Sunday 1975 down by Hedgy’s Run.

Dog Girls wore combat boots with a hole drilled in the heel through which they threaded their laces. Waitresses, like me, wear light comfortable shoes — sneakers or old oxfords. We wear support hose and still get spider veins (or worse) by middle age. I admired the Dog Girls so much that I went out and bought myself a pair of combat boots to wear on my days off when I went to help my grandpa.

“Look at them boots,” he said to me the first day I wore them. “You could walk through a swamp in a thundersquall in them things.”

I loved the confident whomp they made on his wood floor. I was so much more substantial in them.

I take care of my grandpa because he took care of me after my folks died when I was seven. They hit a patch of black ice in an old Chevy and flew off Three Mile Hill like a eagle with headlights. Actually, grandpa took care of me a lot before the accident too. He made my peanut butter and banana sandwiches for lunch. He bought me a sled one Christmas, and a new pair of shoes every Easter. He put vinegar on my bruises. He tried to teach me how to juggle.

At first, folks around here said that Grandpa was unequipped, set in his ways, too dogged to raise a child. He was always early and his stuff was always redd up, whereas I’m late a lot and naturally messy, my bra strap shows, my hems come out. Grandpa was very strict with himself, but not so much with me. I tried hard to live up to his standards, but I’m not much like him. He loves me anyway. Folks finally came to see that, and left us alone.

Sometimes the Dog Girls wore caps that said, “John Deere” or “Detroit,” but mostly they didn’t bother to cover their heads at all. In the winter they came with snow in their hair. It sparkled in the florescent light. With the whoosh of cold air that ushered them in, it gave them a look of what grandpa would call “festooned fairyfolk.” After they sat for a while in the warm diner, the snow would melt and leave their hair dripping till they’d give it a good shake. Once I saw them in the parking lot cutting each other’s hair. They snipped off the back, then held their heads down and cut an oval in front so they could see and hair wouldn’t get in their faces when they put their heads down. Dog Girls are very practical.

One thing I have is hair, scads of it. When I was little, grandpa used to get neighbor ladies to cut it short; he’s a fiend for neatness and simplicity. But it grows like hellfire, so I gave up on it when I moved out of his house. I didn’t know anyone to cut it and I’m not big on beauty parlors. I try to keep it pulled back or braided out of my face, but it has a mind of its own and tends to pop out every which way. Francine, who works the night shift at Ory’s and has medium length “big” hair, spends two hours in Gaynell’s Beauty Nook every Wednesday — and that’s when she’s not getting her roots touched up!

The dog Girls never messed with themselves like Francine and other women. By this I mean they didn’t tweeze, shave, paint, dye, pierce, tattoo, squeeze in, pad or push-up any parts of themselves. Men admired them anyway (even Alfie, who’s pretty much afraid of girls). I, personally, never had the knack for any of that stuff even though Francine has tried hard to teach me.

I would stand at the diner window on Saturday mornings, posting specials and watching for them to come down the mountain in the predawn fog. The Dog Girls were excellent drivers and never went slow. They drove four-wheel vehicles with their heads hanging out the window, hair blowing and rock ‘n roll blasting out of the radio. I always loved the feel of wind in my hair. Grandpa didn’t like to get his little bit of hair mussed up. He’d open the windows for me though, because he knew how happy it made me. “Tarnation, girl,” he’d say. “Ya look teched with that hair all over the place.” Then we’d both laugh.

He never liked the radio on when he was in the car, though he didn’t mind “lite FM” played real low. Grandpa really hated rock ‘n roll. I didn’t much put the radio on, because I knew he tolerated it just to make me happy and it’s kind of irritating not to be able to hear the words to the songs when it’s so low. For me, Dog Girls were a truly glorious sight coming down the interstate with hair blowing and radios blaring.

Ory admired Dog Girls as much as anyone, but frowned when he saw them coming. He was always afraid they’d scare the other customers away. Usually, they came very early in the morning, five or six a.m., and were gone before the real tetchy breakfast crowd got here. Folks who came at that hour were too hung over or sleepy or drawn up in their own worries to pay much attention to Dog Girls. Once in a while the Dog Girls would linger over coffee until folks came in and stared at them. A few people were frightened so Ory would seat them at the other end of the diner. I think grandpa would have liked the Dog Girls even though they were messy and sassy, but by the time they started coming to Ory’s, he didn’t get out all that much.

The waitresses never minded Dog Girls lingering because they left big tips and were always kind and patient, even when the orders were screwed-up. Ory’s waitresses don’t usually screw-up because we’re experienced and the place never gets too busy. When they do, you can bet something really horrible is happening in their lives, and Dog Girls have sympathy for folks in troubled times.

The Dog Girls loved meat and ate a lot of bacon. They put it on everything, even ice cream! They drank coffee or soda pop, and never fruit juice; they weren’t big on sweets. My Grandpa loved his sweets, until Doc Keener told him he had diabetes. Grandpa took the pills Doc gave him and stayed on the diabetes diet. He never cheated by even one bite. That’s how he was. After grandma died twenty years ago, he never looked at another woman even though the church widows hounded him to death for years.

Dog Girls loved napkins to wave around and shred as they shared blood-and-thunder stories, to wipe their faces and clean their combat boots, write lists on and draw maps. But they loved snow best. Snow was certainly their best setting, despite the trying road conditions. Whenever it snowed, you could bet that Dog Girls would be out in it, marking up the whiteness with footprints and angels, throwing it at each other and laughing. They were always talking about how much they loved it. Dog Girls always sleep with their socks on, since their feet and hands are very susceptible to the cold. This is why they always wear boots, even in the summer. Around here it is less cold when it snows; perhaps that’s why they love snow so much. Even so, they put cayenne pepper in their shoes to keep their feet warm.

I saw them playing in the snow on a back road off the pike once, and I knew I was a kindred spirit. I’m not overly fond of the cold, but I have always loved snow. Rain makes me sad. Thunder storms are okay if I’m in the car or the house, but sometimes they give me earaches. Too much heat slows me down and makes me dizzy, which is okay when you don’t have to work. But snow makes me laugh out loud, just like the Dog Girls.