Local seniors move to restaurant parking lot to keep breakfast tradition alive

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BOONVILLE - The pandemic wasn't going to stop a group of Boonville seniors from getting together for breakfast each morning, so they got creative. 

The group has gathered for breakfast together for roughly 20 years. The pandemic has forced them to moved their morning meetings outside.

Each person orders their food and then joins the circle of folding chairs and lawn chairs in the McDonald's parking lot off of I-70.

"Well, it gives us something to do besides sit and look at the walls everyday," said Don Arnold with a laugh.

For hours each morning, the group banter back and forth, cracking jokes and swapping stories.

"They're good friends of mine, but we argue and we get into it and that's part of it," Bob Bail said. "If you can't say what you want to say, you better not be here."

On a typical morning, about 20 people will come and go from the circle of chairs between 6:15 a.m. and 9:30 a.m. Some stay for hours, others only for a few minutes. You can hear part of their story in the video below:

While many are retired, some in the group continue to work. 

"The oldest one here is 94 [years old] but he had to go to a meeting, and the youngest one here is 67," Robert Brandes said.

The group has met in the parking lot since the dining area closed in March. 

"We didn't like it but, you know, we've got to do what we've got to do to get together and have a conversation," Arnold said.

"We try to practice distancing, and nobody comes in here sick or anything, and we just visit," Brandes said. "That's it. That's the old-farm way to do it, is visit."

Diana Thomas, who is not retired, said adjusting to the new setup wasn't a problem for her.

"When we were outside [for the first time], I was like 'Oh, great we're outside'," she said. "I normally don't bring a chair, I just come and hang out and then get to work on time."

The group has welcomed in new friends over the last 20 years and lost others who have passed away or moved into nursing homes, but those group members are not forgotten in the daily conversations.

"We are missing several men that are really dear to my heart, also that have passed away this year and a few last year," Thomas said. "We still talk about them every day, because we miss them." 

The group's new set-up in the parking lot has sparked conversation of its own as people drive by to wave, take pictures and tell the group how happy it makes them to see the friends gathered together.

"People come along, and people wave at us, and we talk and it's a way to get out because some of us don't see each other," Brandes said.