By Jared Ritz
Two booths are occupied by a packed group of middle- to golden-aged men. On top of a refrigerator nearby is a framed picture of an elderly man, sitting in the usual booth drinking coffee. As the guys lounge around shooting the breeze, the talk is casual and the razzing is too. It's clear that they have been doing this for a while.
The waitress, a petite woman in usual 4B's garb, chats with them and fills their cups. The men give her a hard time, clearly all in good fun. By the closeness she has with these customers, not to mention the amount of nicknames she's called, it's clear she is someone who has been doing her end of the job for quite some time, too.
Early on Feb. 15, 1970, the 4B's Restaurant on First Street West started up. In the same moment, this coffee club planted its now-firm roots.
"When they opened the door up," said Larry Schuschke, a longtime coffee club member, "they were standing there waiting for coffee."
Once they sat down, the group was met with a steaming pot of joe by Edna Stark, a waitress working her first in a career of thousands of 6 a.m.-to-2 p.m. shifts for the 4B's.
Apparently, she and the group hit it off.
Fast-forward 32.5 years to Wednesday, July 31, 2002. A lot of those original guys are still here, with a bunch of youngsters, relatively speaking, mixed in. The building is still in the same spot, but the inside has seen, depending on who you ask, two or three makeovers. Stark is still here, too, but not for long. Wednesday morning was her last, ending nearly 33 years of service, and, by most accounts, sort of an end to an era.
"Toots is family. It'll be a different restaurant without her," said Brian Morse, defacto leader of this group.
Morse, 55, has been coming to the club ever since he followed his father, Al, through the doors one day. That was 11 years ago, and he has hardly missed a day since.
Al Morse is one of the original members who came down that day. About half of the current crew was present that first day or shortly after, Morse said.
One member who is no longer present in the physical being, but most definitely in the spiritual, is Louie Lineweaver.
Described by the group as a sparrer, Lineweaver was about 92 when he died but he was not your average 92-year-old.
"He kicked the chair out from under me the day he died," said Bill Hinebauch, 60, who farms southwest of town.
Morse told a story about how Lineweaver got in a fight in the parking lot in the week leading up to his death. On his final day, Lineweaver drove home from his usual piece of pie and coffee, stepped out of his car, and died right there.
This was six or seven years ago, and the picture on the refrigerator behind 4B's counter is of him, put there as a sort of coffee club memorial.
Stark has fond memories of the person she met that first day of work.
"He liked to joke, kind of witty. He was just a great person," she said.
She remembered the first day at the B's as extremely busy. A 9-C basketball tournament was in town. When factored into the fact that it was opening day of a new food business in Havre, she had her hands full.
Before long, the pace got a little slower, and she had more time to chat with the coffee crew. Eventually, she was part of the group.
"They're just kind of special people. They come here every morning," she said.
"You spoil them, and they keep coming back."
And, if history tells us anything, they and their descendants will be coming back for a long, long time.
An average of eight people come to the coffee club during the summer. Of these, five members started coming because, like Morse, they followed their fathers.
People start filing in about 5:30 or 6 a.m., and some are gone by the time 7 a.m. rolls around. The explanation: Many are farmers.
During the winter, Morse said the membership jumps dramatically, and most make it back during the afternoon. During the summer, though, these afternoon meetings are reserved for special occasions, like Stark's going- away party.
"It's kind of hard to shut off the tractor in the middle of the day and come drink coffee," he said.
The conversation around here goes from topic to topic, but stays on one topic more than any other.
"It's pretty much farm-oriented," said Dave Bessette, a man who followed his father down to the club about four years ago. "Farm-related, anyway."
One thing the club tries to avoid talking about is politics.
"There's too many Democrats to talk politics around here," zinged Hinebauch. No one heeds his advice, and a political conversation ensues.
The topics that truly aren't discussed are few and far between.
Keith Richardson, 55, design engineer for Big Bud Tractors, can only think of one.
"(We talk about) everything except girls," he said.