If Chapel “Chappie” Mastin doesn’t show up to Biancke’s Restaurant by about noon each day, the waitresses begin to worry.
“If he has to go to the doctor, he has to call down here and tell us so we’re not freaking out,” says Cathy Bowman.
Cathy has been a waitress at Biancke’s for 30 years -- about as long as Chappie has been a regular. He used to visit the restaurant with his wife of 53 years, Rachel, but she died four years ago from a lung infection. Rachel had a heart transplant 13 years before her death and was taking medication that compromised her immune system, making her more vulnerable to all types of infections.
Chappie always thought he would go first.
Now Chappie’s routine has changed significantly since his wife died, and he's mostly retired from farming. He’s at Biancke’s at least twice a day, holding court with his friends and bantering with the restaurant staff. Walk into Biancke’s at lunchtime any day of the week, and you’ll find several old farmers and retired gentlemen eating together.
“We’re the table of experts!” says 84-year-old cattle farmer Lowell Clifford.
“If you need advice on anything, we got it,” adds Chappie.
Once or twice a week after lunch, Chappie visits his longtime friend William “Billy Bob” Toadvine at an assisted living home just outside of town. Billy Bob, 82, has been in and out of the facility since injuring himself when he fell off the top of a hay baler last year. The nurses here get the same ribbing from Chappie that the waitresses at the restaurant do. As Chappie passes by the nurse’s station where several employees are gathered, he smirks and stops to zing them with, “Y’all ain’t got nothing to do today?”
He has been a farmer for his entire life. It is all he’s ever wanted to do, but after 60 years of hard labor and six surgeries, he is unable to do much in the way of daily chores himself. He still oversees his soybean and corn crops, and cattle, but this might be his last year of farming. He recently signed a lease with a renewable energy company that will put solar panels on the last 200 acres he owns.
Chappie's retirement from farming, and his wife's death, have brought big changes to his daily routines. He lives alone now, and time can stretch out in front of a television set. Social outings are important to him.
His friends and the waitresses at Biancke’s, the ones who notice if he isn't there, are often the best part of his day.