“Hi! Can I take your order?!”
The barista was young – with more spring in his voice than ever was in my step. I really doubted that he shaved. Or even knew how.
“I’ll have a decaf latte,” I placed my order.
And then, feeling brave.
“Double shot of vanilla,” I added. And not the sugar-free.
“And your name?” he asked, poising the black marker at the top of the paper cup.
“Darlene,” I said, and then quickly added, not willing to risk another “Darling” scribbled on my order. “D-A-R…”
“I know that name!” he said proudly. And then, finished spelling it aloud as I did, “…L…E…N…E.”
Maybe he did know how to shave.
He took my stare of amazement as a challenge and explained.
“I have a cousin named Darlene,” he told me, with a victorious smile. “She’s 65.”
65? Really?! Who dragged age into this conversation? Of course, my grey hair sneaking out the sides of my son’s old baseball cap might have been a hint or two. Do I politely nod and let the subject drop? Not willing to “date” myself? Or do I keep the ball rolling, possibly revealing my own age?
Aw hell, I took the plunge.
“Your cousin’s probably named after “Darlene” from the Mickey Mouse Club. A lot of us with that name were named after her. So when you see a “Darlene,” we’re usually from around that same period of time.”
“It’s such a great name!!!” he said, scrawling the name on my cup.
I smiled. It wasn’t so bad admitting my age range. I mean, I’m sure he could tell I wasn’t twenty. Even though I must admit that in my heart I am still twenty, especially when a cute young man (guy? dude?) like this takes the time to even talk to me. And when they actually look you in the eyes and smile, well, there’s no difference now at 60-something and when I was really twenty. So yeah, I looked him in the eyes and I smiled my most fetching smile.
“I really love that name of “Darlene,” he murmured, softly. “It reminds me of Old America.”
Ohhh – Kay.
I must admit this made me pause.
I wasn’t aware there was an “Old America,” but I guess there is.
And I’m it.
I’m one of the Baby Boomers who was filled with idealism, hope, and promise. There were a lot of us, and we helped stop a war and impeach a President; we spoke out against injustice, worked for diversity and equity, and stepped up, when it was our time, to do our jobs, raise our families, and run the country. We didn’t always find our way; we might have stumbled trying to do so much, but we tried. And we believed that if we worked together – all of us, Americans – we could make anything better.
That’s what the barista called it. Called those of us who grew up with the Mickey Mouse Club and the new medium of television, long hair and the belief that love would bring us peace. And he said “Old America” with respect. He said it with longing. He said it like someone sitting on the edge of adulthood, looking back at that time of innocence when all questions were answered. When we felt safe and sure about the future, and we hoped our children and grandchildren felt the same way. He said it like he missed that Old America.
I know what he means.
I miss it too.