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Breakfast in Pahrump


Breakfast in Pahrump

Remembering another silent breakfast, forty years ago


We drove into Pahrump, Nevada, late on a Sunday morning after spending a few days in Vegas at the casinos. The October sky was clear and bright and the distant mountains were sharp against the horizon. My wife and I were on our way to Death Valley to explore some canyons and enjoy the vastness of the desert park. I gassed up the car and we went into a small casino in search of breakfast. After a few moments, our eyes adjusted to the darkness and we found the cafe where we grabbed a table in the non-smoking section, one with no ashtrays. Shirley and I ordered waffles and coffee and settled back in our chairs.

On the other side of the cafe, a small group of diners caught my attention. At one end of a long table sat a young Marine Private in his dress blue uniform, the white hat with its patent leather black brim resting on a chair beside him. He seemed so terribly young to be wearing a dress uniform. He was quiet and absorbed in the breakfast in front of him. At the far end of the table sat a large older woman wearing a huge sweatshirt. She sat at the table and smoked, dropping her cigarette ashes on the detritus of breakfast that sat on the plate in front of her. I took her to be the Marine's mother. A young couple sat on one side of the table and they seemed totally engaged with each other, eyeing and touching one another without a care in the world. Across from them, a young woman sat and busied herself with a small child strapped into a stroller. The group at the table had a sense of aloofness and distraction about them; there was no conversation.

I tried to imagine what this breakfast was about, here in this sad casino on an October morning. I could not remember seeing such a low ranking Marine, especially someone as young as this, in a dress blue uniform. I did not think they were together for a wedding, as the casual dress of everyone else did not mesh with the occasion. Was this a sendoff for this young man? On the other hand, could they have been at a funeral, the funeral of a friend perhaps. The young mother tended to her baby and the couple wanted to be somewhere else alone. The Mom smoked and had nothing to say while the casino’s slot machines hummed away in the background.

I remembered a silent breakfast with my father at Union Station in Hartford, Connecticut, back in 1969. We were having a final meal together early on a cold January morning, and I would soon board the bus that would take me to Fort Dix in New Jersey to enter the Army. The specter of Vietnam loomed silently between us. My father smoked and had eggs, and I had eggs as well; we did not talk. After breakfast, we walked over to the terminal together and I prepared to get on my bus. The last thing he said to me was, "Be good and take care." We shook hands and he pressed a twenty into my palm. I climbed into the bus and watched him disappear as he stood on the curb, watching the bus and me as we pulled away from the station. Now, I was revisiting this memory here in a casino in Nevada almost 40 years on.

The Marine and the others finished their breakfast and got up to leave. The Marine carried his hat out in front of him in a manner that would have made the honor guard at the Tomb of the Unknowns proud. They filed out quietly and the mom said thank you to the cashier.

The world goes on as before: young men and women enter the armed services and some find themselves sent off to war. Amid all the uncertainty and fear, silent families gather with nothing to say, and the generations grow up apart.

I thought about this young Marine and reflected on where he would be in forty years, whether or not he would still be alive. I wondered if he might, as an old man, see a young fresh faced soldier at breakfast one morning, and if the sight of that soldier would send his mind back through the years to revisit this breakfast here today, this silent breakfast in Pahrump, Nevada.



(this story appeared in the Tonopah Review volume 10, January 2010)