Ma Kelly is getting on. She has been cooking and working in her deluxe grease bomb service from five in the morning until four in the afternoon long before I started lacing up my steel toed boots and swinging a lunch bucket and a thermos from the end of my lumberman's arm.
"What you want today Beer?" is what she has been saying to me ever since she heard a fellow worker say my name one morning. "What kind of name that? Beer. What you want today Beer?"
Ma Kelly's name is not really Ma Kelly. That was the name of the run down restaurant she bought shortly after fleeing with her young husband from the war going on then in Vietnam. She does not talk about the war. But she will talk about her new country Canada all day if you have a ready ear. On Canada Day she decks out her place in our unusual flag and plays Stompin' Tom Connors on the 8-track. It is the only day of the year she uses the 8-track. The rest of the time she listens to CBC radio. "When I first came to Canada Stompin' Tom had a show on tv. He taught me Canada is more special than I first imagine." Ma and Pa Kelly close up their cafe for three weeks each summer and visit different places in the country their children now flourish in. They have seen more of this country than I.
The only customers Ma loses are the boys who retire from the mill, go crazy from the stressful atmosphere of the mill, or, as often happens, have a heart attack and keel over. "Canada a free country Beer. Nobody have to eat my food if they don't like. You want gravy?" Ma asks if you want gravy like a street walker asks if you could use a little company. "I think your friend Rollie will be next. I can hear his big Canadian heart ticking like bomb when he comes through the door. He barely fit in door now. Maybe I should get bigger door or start losing customer?" She laughs her evil laugh in a good hearted way, the way a bartender does when a customer falls off a stool.
On Saturdays some of Ma's old customers bring their children and grand-children in for breakfast or lunch. Ma makes a good living from her business but it is the Saturday customers with their hungry, growing children that make the six early mornings a week and occasional ungrateful customer worthwhile enduring decade after decade. "You should make children Beer. You can name them Porter and Stubby."
On Saturdays I bring the Hammer round Ma Kelly's and tie her to a pole outside with her water. Ma brings her out burned sausages and talks to her in Vietnamese. The Hammer licks ma's face with a greasy wet tongue when she is finished her treat. "That good Canadian dog Beer. One day we go to Newfoundland and bring one back to keep the crackheads out of our yard. You want some gravy?"