The first time that I met Ms. Gesundburg was on an unexpected blind date. I was blind to the fact that she was going to be my date that morning. In the early hours of a pretty significant snowstorm, my boss had instructed me, while wearing a totally straight-face, to deliver a special food order over to Room 33 of the adjoining motel. I strutted myself across the snow-covered parking lot, awkwardly wearing my waiter’s uniform which was topped with a vest and bow tie , happily free from the restaurant, if only for a moment. I knocked politely on the door and waited patiently in the cold. Suddenly, the door swung open as the winds again began to howl, kicking up a fog of fine snow.
And there she stood.
“Come On In, Honey!”
Probably in her sixties, she stood near six feet tall and was big-boned, as they say. She was barefoot and wearing a flowing, sheer nightgown. My first thought was one of fear. The fear of how embarrassing it will be for my family and friends after I was discovered suffocated to death while unwillingly losing my virginity to a much older woman in a motel room. But fortunately that never happened, my male ego and emotional growth still free of scars.
The old adage “You can’t judge a book by its cover” was so true when it came to Mrs. Gesundburg. With her dramatic, grand entrances through the restaurant’s front door, she was probably assumed by traveling diners as being a bag-woman who had lost her way. She was verbally as loud as the outfits that she wore, bright mismatched floral patterns of clothing, wearing flip flops topped with plastic flowers and big sunglasses stuck in a mass of unkempt, fly-away blonde hair. A large Phyllis Diller. She addressed each and every person on the way to her favorite table as if they were an old friend, the tone of her voice always positive and happy as it broke the normal ho-hum of the dining room and bounced around its walls. It’s not that she had a ‘voice that would carry’, she just talked loud.
It was rumored that she had a habit of marrying wealthy men, each of whom then died under suspicious circumstances. One of the dearly departed had owned large tracts of land near our nation’s capital, which were later sold to become what is now one of the largest shopping complexes near the city. Another of the Unfortunates died owning countless shares of stock in Ma Bell before the conglomerate’s breakup. She may have had periods of mourning, but she wasn’t hurtin’. She owned a house not a 1/2 mile from the hotel, but during periods of extreme inclement weather like this storied day, she’d simply rent a room at the motel, supplying herself with everything that a girl could need. A comfy bed, cable TV, a full kitchen of food and human interaction.
As an eighteen year old, I’d often question older adults when seeking the truth behind the rumors. The questions were normally answered with the old ‘wink-wink’…’at least that’s the way I heard it’. The truth, of course, is rarely as much fun as the rumors.
In my little world of the dining room, guests would often shun their heads or pretend to be in deep conversation as she sachayed into our lives and started unexpected conversations on her way to a late breakfast. Going for the shock factor, she’d wave to me from only ten feet away and made sure that I saw her with a bellowing, enthusiastic “Hello… There… Handsome!”, but I’d be right back at her with a “Good Morning Sunshine!”. And to me, she was exactly that, bright sunshine in a room full of dark personalities. Her visits opened the door for me to flash a little of my own personality, instead of acting the stuffy waiter figure who was seen and not to be heard.
The Gesundburg Mansion was an old rundown, two-story farmhouse hidden from the road by several large maple trees. There may very well have been old paper currency hidden underneath a mattress somewhere inside, but you’d never guess it from the mailbox. Each and every time that she left the restaurant after dining, be it coffee and toast or a T-Bone feast, I’d find a $5.00 bill laying near the sugar bowl. When my 17 year-old girlfriend’s 17 year-old dog finally gave up and went to doggie heaven, Ms. Gesundburg gave her the first pick from a newly delivered litter of puppies. She once gave me a car stereo for my old piece-of-junk 1964 Chevy Biscayne, not from the local Radio Shack, but from a dirty shelf in the property’s small outbuilding.
Looking back at those times with a set of maturing eyes, I think perhaps that she treated me with random acts of kindness because I saw her as who she really was, which was a human being.