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THE FREE LUNCH
by Ralph E. Gordon



What you see is what you get with Omar Lamar Parks. He makes no pretense of being anybody or anything except what he is, a down home country boy from Little Rock, Mississippi, and proud of it. Omar Lamar was in my class at Beulah Hubbard School along with Billy Earl Williams, Oscar Monroe Herrington Jr. and Tommie Sue Smith, just to name a few. We started in Mrs. Ola Kate Matlock’s class together at Beulah Hubbard and have been friends ever since.

After high school Omar Lamar worked for the State Highway Department and retired from that agency. I often see my old friend and schoolmate at Nelda’s Grocery and Café in Little Rock. We never miss a chance to talk about old times at B.H. and trade stories about what we’ve been up to lately.

Omar Lamar and I had a little ritual we went through every time we had lunch together.

I used to always kid O.L. about buying my lunch, but he never would ante up the money. That gave me the opportunity to kid him about how tight he was and how he should get off that fat wallet of his. Good-natured Omar Lamar took my kidding in stride and never failed to get a few gigs in himself. He always had a good excuse and turned the tables on me to pay for his plate. After our usual ritual of accusing each other of all sorts of greed, stinginess and penny-pinching we would have a good laugh and each pay for our own meals.

I guess we all like to stay one step ahead of the next guy when it comes to joking around and kidding each other but sometimes it just doesn’t work out that way. Omar Lamar and I were having lunch together one day at Little Rock, just like we had so many times before. This time he left before I did and I didn’t have a chance to hit him up for the tab. I should have suspected something when Omar Lamar left so soon; I have never known my old friend to be in a hurry.

When I went to pay for my lunch Nelda said, "Omar has done paid for yours".

It was quite a shock as my old classmate had the jump on me. I would never get to call him a tightwad ever again. The next time I saw Omar, right there at Nelda’s, he didn’t say word as I served my plate at the buffet and went over and sat down at his table.

I said "Omar, I appreciate you buying my lunch the other day."

He grinned and kept on working on that plate of purple-hulls and cornbread as he remained unusually mute. We finally got around to talking about the weather or some such small talk but the subject of his buying my lunch never came up again.

I finished my purple-hulls and cream style corn before Omar did and went to pay for my lunch but I faced a strange dilemma. I’m wondering, what do I do now? Which would be in bad taste (no pun intended), paying for Omar’s lunch, after all I owed him one, or just accepting his generosity with class and dignity? Either way, Omar had pulled one on me.

It looked like my old friend Omar Lamar Parks was about to have the last laugh. As I walked out the door of Nelda’s Grocery and Café, Omar Lamar sat there finishing his tea with a big grin knowing he would forever be one up on me.

I learned a valuable lesson that day: Be careful who you call a tight-wad, you never know when they just might take you to lunch.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Ralph Gordon is a fifth generation Mississippian who lives in Union, Miss., with his wife Pat. He is a retired salesman for a major lawn and garden equipment manufacturer and former executive director of the Union Chamber of Commerce. Ralph is an active member of the Newton County Historical Society and serves on the Board of Directors of The Boler's Inn Museum Foundation. He received his education at Beulah Hubbard High School, East Central Community College, Delta State University, and has studied writing at Millsaps College.

The focus of Ralph's writing (poetry, songs, humorous short stories) is on local and family history with an emphasis on Southern folklore. He is currently writing his first book. A regular contributor to the Journal of The Newton County Historical Society, his stories are also published in the Oxford So and So. Three of his songs were recorded by Mountain Gypsies, a well known Arkansas bluegrass group. The Mississippi Department of Tourism displays two of Ralph's history-based poems at the Vicksburg Welcome Center.



Read more of Ralph's stories:
Mississippi Writers' Guild
Lady Longwood
The Fishing Trip
Mama's Spaghetti...
Gone Fishing
Salute To A Hero

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