With the median age of this group of distinguished gentlemen teetering around 75, the “10:30 Coffee Club” just celebrated 55 years of togetherness.
The band of merry men gathers Monday through Friday, except for holidays, at 10:30 a.m. for a half-hour of coffee and conversation, though some arrive shortly after 10 and many linger after 11.
Their friendship and camaraderie have long outlasted most politicians and Hollywood stars, clothing fads and hairdos and don’ts, some daily newspapers and even the very businesses or restaurants they’ve called home.
Currently, the Coffee Club meets at R.J.’s Steakery, beginning that stint when Snooky’s Restaurant closed in early 2012. They had been slurping coffee and swapping stories at that iconic eatery for 13 years.
Other meeting locations included Boyd’s Vandy’s on Main, Vandy’s on Vine, Webb’s Nic Nac Grill, Bunny’s Restaurant, Snooky’s Uptown, Ellis’ Drug Store and the original spot, Franklin’s Rexall Drug Store.
Tal Callaway organized this conglomeration of men in early October 1959 with just two sentences and one new friend. Callaway said to Ed Olliff, “You’re my kind of people, Ed. Do you go to coffee?”
For the benefit of the Coffee Club members who might not have heard the story — which is unlikely because Callaway tells it often — and the wives who accompanied them at the 55th Anniversary Celebration held on a recent Tuesday evening at R.J.’s, Callaway invited — well, told — two men to help him re-enact that now-famous moment.
“I’ve asked Frank Parker to play the part of Ed Olliff and Mickey Dickey to play the part of ‘Tiny’ Hill,” Callaway said. “And with no rehearsals, we’re going to show you how the club started.”
Jo and Tal Callaway portrayed themselves.
With elaborate props — two tables labeled with poster-board signs bearing the words “Aldred Motel” and “Hill and Olliff Insurance and Real Estate” — the drama began.
From his “motel room,” Callaway called his wife on an old-fashioned, rotary-dial phone that actually rang with help from an old-fashioned alarm clock that accidentally went off several times during the rest of the program.
“Hi, darling,” said Tal when Jo Callaway picked up the phone. “As you know, today is Thursday, October 1, 1959. I got the job, and tomorrow I’m going to the realtor to look for a house.”
“Oh, Tal. You’re going to get your first Sears store,” Jo responded. After a few more words of endearment scripted by Tal, Scene 1 ended.
Scene 2 began as Callaway “drove” his car — another
to Hill and Olliff (i.e., the other table prop) and spoke to the proprietors about a new house.
Though Olliff was apparently successful in the 1959 house hunt, the unrehearsed actor playing the part needed a few hints from Callaway to successfully deliver his lines.
Just after Tal Callaway told Parker to “let me out of the car,” the new Statesboro resident said to his realtor, “You’re my kind of people, Ed. Do you go to coffee?”
Callaway sent the actors back to their seats and continued.
“The two of us made plans to meet at Paul Franklin’s drug store, Monday, October 5,” he said. “Soon, Dub Lovett, who worked for his father-in-law at H.W. Smith Jewelers, joined us. But Dub was only allowed 15 minutes for coffee and would sometimes sneak away after paying the bill.
“’We can’t have that,’ I told Dub,” Callaway said.
The coffee drinkers then started matching coins to see who would pay, evolving eventually into a complicated dice-rolling game with additional java-lovers.
With the end of the drama and a “Happy Birthday” song to the club — Callaway said of the singing, “That was terrible” — the group meandered home, knowing the gentlemen would convene the next morning, as always.
Coffee Club traditions
And reunite they did. Some mornings just shy of a dozen show up, if several are out sick. Most mornings, however, “Around 20 Christian men get together five days a week for fellowship,” Callaway said.
Like the morning a large group gathered to celebrate Lynn Batten’s birthday — he didn’t say which one he was celebrating. Another special occasion for the morning was the return of Jack Stallings, who had been away for a bit. Just before taking her husband home, Stallings’ wife shared that they had recently celebrated 64 years of marriage.
When the leather cup that dates back to 1946 from the Forest Heights Country Club came out, Callaway said, “We don’t feel like it’s gambling because it’s an honor to treat your friends. It’s a privilege.”
The men passed the cup and dice around the table in complicated, confusing moves that only club members seem to understand.
“It took some members years to understand the rules,” said Bobby White, pointing out that sometimes help from former mathematics professors in the group is needed.
“We can count on Earl Lavender to stand up and say, ‘That’s not right,’ if someone makes a mistake,” said White.
“I already got confused over here,” said Mickey Dickey when he wasn’t sure if he needed to roll again.
“Watch the pro rolling,” Johnny Parrish said. “Three deuces; I’m out!”
Callaway gave a thumbs-up when he got out; he’d paid a recent coffee tab.
“That boy will have a heart attack if he loses,” whispered one roller.
And another one added, “He’s a loudmouth,” when his friend celebrated exuberantly.
With constant, good-natured quips and ribbing about rolls and age and hearing and baldness and cheating and the current football pool and former member Erk Russell’s comments about Kennedy and Jane Fonda, the game was over and the lucky winner for the morning was Charlie Christmas.
“Say ‘thank-you, Charlie,’” Christmas said as he pulled out his wallet.
In one of the few serious moments of the morning, Callaway said, “To be a member of the club, you come, join us for a day, and say you want to be a member. We’d love to have you. It’s a 55-year-old club, and we want to keep it going.”
With the history and camaraderie that these gentlemen share, it would be a shame for the 10:30 Coffee Club to do anything but continue.