There was something about the old guy sitting at the corner table of Max’s Diner. Something that the owner couldn’t quite put his finger on. He’d never seen him before yet he looked familiar.
He’d served him a black coffee and a slice of apple pie. The old guy looked up at him and smiled. It was a genuine look of gratitude. If a smile could say thank you, then this was THAT smile.
Max was guessing he was around eighty. Thin grey hair, quiffed and slicked back. His face was craggy and lined from too much sun but he had young eyes. Piercing blue eyes that looked as though they should belong to someone half his age. He was dressed casually yet had a certain style about him. Denim jeans and jacket and underneath a crisp white tee shirt. His body looked good for his age. Fit and trim.
He was carrying a guitar case. Nothing unusual about that. Max’s Diner was on Highway 40 just outside of Cookeville and on the road to Nashville and Memphis. Willy Nelson himself had stopped off for a bite to eat just a couple of years ago and there was a framed photo on the wall of Max with his arm around Glen Campbell. Max had a feeling that the old guy might have played with a few of the old greats. He was anxious to find out more. He walked over. Coffee pot in hand.
“Can I getcha more coffee? It’s a free re-fill.”
The old guy nodded. And with a rich southern drawl replied.
“Sure. That’ll be great. Thank you.”
Max filled up the strangers cup. He looked at the guitar case.
“You play in a band? Sing?”
Again the stranger gave a smile.
“Used to. Long time ago. Now I just do a bit of busking here and there.”
Max was intrigued.
“Ever play with anyone famous? We’ve had some greats in here. Willy Nelson just two years ago sat at this very table. Ever play with him?”
The stranger shook his head.
“Nope don’t think I ever did.”
Then very casually he added.
“But I did play with Carl Perkins and Johnny Cash one time.”
Max sat down opposite the old guy. The man had just mentioned two of his all time heroes.
“You played with Perkins and Cash? Wow man that’s amazing. When was this?”
The stranger shrugged his shoulders.
“In the fifties. Maybe fifty five or fifty six. Jerry Lee was there too.”
Max’s jaw almost hit the table.
“You’re kidding me. Jerry Lee Lewis? You knew these guys?”
As though it was no big deal the stranger just nodded and sipped his coffee. Max was in awe.
“Look man, I don’t wanna be rude but are you famous? Should I know you?”
The old guy grinned.
“Me? No way. Just a guitar player. Look I gotta go. I can get a train from here to Memphis?”
Max was desperate for the guy to stay and talk but could see he was anxious to get going.
“Yeh. It’s a five minute walk into town. The station will be on your left. You sure I can’t get you something else? A burger? We do great cheese burgers here?”
For a moment the stranger paused as though he was about to change his mind. Then just smiled.
“Not today. But thanks. Gotta go.”
Max walked with him to the door. He wanted one last piece of information.
“Sorry, excuse my bad manners. What’s your name? You live in Memphis?”
The stranger completely ignored the first question. Just gave that warm smile.
“I used to. But that was a long, long time ago. But I’m getting old. It’s time to go home.”
He walked away, leaving Max feeling that someone famous might have just left the building…