I arrived at the center at 11:15, 15 minutes early. I asked around for Jack and found him. Jack's about 65, Russian immigrant who is the site manager at the center. He seemed surprised that I wanted to volunteer and was sort of scatterbrained in a sweet grandfatherly kind of way. He couldn't find the volunteer form for me to fill out. Within our first 5 minutes of conversation, he told me a lot about his children, and grandchildren. He showed me pictures and pointed out how beautiful they all are. It's funny how all or most grandparents are essentially alike. They're so cute and love to seep naches, or are really proud of their offspring,

Jack was busy otherwise sorting through papers and accepting this week s delivery of hot food. Larry then waltzed into the kitchen. He is a darling Asian man of about 60 who volunteers weekly and is Jack's right-hand man. Larry's the sort who finds it absolutely hilarious to psych me out as I go to give him a high five. He was at home in the kitchen and was almost In uniform: black slacks, black Converse, a red and white gingham short sleeved shirt and a paper chefs hat with a blue stripe that I would love to don one day.

The other volunteer is Elyssa. She's 70 and from Cuba. She has the grandparent thing down to a science. She showed me photos of her clan, complete with her grandchildren's alma maters and present occupations.

Jack led me to the room adjacent to the kitchen, a fairly small cafeteria with 10 or so tables and a 12-inch mounted television. Then he showed me a pile of old looking donuts and told me to stand behind the table they sat on. The donuts, Elyssa explained, are a day old. They are donated to the center. Why, I thought to myself, would anyone want day-old donuts? I looked around at the people there and it hit me. It hit me as Jack told me that the donuts are one for a dime, three for a dime after lunch. There are plenty of healthy appetites there.

Seniors donate $1.50 for lunch, but it's kind of optional; no senior is turned away. Coffee is 25 cents. I already explained the donut situation. I waited to sell a donut and tried to make them look fresh. I turned the upside-down ones right-side-up. The seniors gathered at the tables in their respective cliques. Some laughed and some looked rather lonely. Men sat with men, women with women. There were a few man-woman couples. It struck me how much this resembled high school: The loner in the red pants pulled up entirely too high. The clown of the bunch. The group who laugh at and tease each other. They all looked at me at one point or another and they smiled. Me In my plastic apron and plastic gloves. I stared back and studied the faces. I was afraid to peer too far into my future.

Elyssa resurfaced and told me why she volunteers. I guessed it: She's a widow. Her husband passed away a year ago, and if she stays home, she cries. I'd known this woman all of 20 minutes, and already she was my grandmother, widowed and alone. I didn't really know what to say. So I told her that my grandpa died eight years ago and it's still hard on my grandma. I don't think that made Elyssa feel any better.

By 11:50,1 had started to get antsy. I had sold two donuts and one cup of coffee. I was finally steered toward the juice and cartons of milk. Neither Jack nor Larry spoke much. My whole day ran much lihe a silent film. If Jack wanted me to perform a task, he would sort of smile and point me toward my destination. After unloading the beverages, I laid out little white rolls on each of 60 plates, the kind that have separate compartments for different foods. I then placed a pat of margarine under each roll. I guess this was so the warm roll would soften the refrigerated spread, though it didn't really work that way. At 12, Jack flew into action. He unwrapped the foods. I scooped chocolate pudding onto the plates, using an ice cream scoop. Once that was finished, I was putting roast beef and three potatoes on each plate. Elyssa added stringbeans, and Jack and Larry delivered the plates.

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