CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- It was impossible not to overhear the conversation from nearby tables at the restaurant.
To the right were two women, clearly a couple, though not overtly. They were together in gentle looks and finished sentences and the way they anticipated the needs of the other -- handing across just the pepper, not the salt, without being asked; stopping the waitress to ask for extra tartar sauce even though it wasn't she who ordered the fish; swiping her partner's pickles without getting smacked.
With them were two very young children -- one African-American, the other likely from China. They were chattery, dimpled giggleboxes, but well-mannered, behaved.
It was easy to tell that theirs was a happy little family.
One that Bob Bigot and Joe Intolerant, also seated nearby, couldn't abide. In loud voices, they talked of calling Child Protective Services to save those poor kids from what was certain to be a lifetime of depravity and sin. They commented how the women were too homely to have attracted men. Suggested the children would've been better off aborted.
The little ones were too young to recognize the fountain of ugliness that was spilling so close to their table, and if the mothers heard, they didn't react.
All were finishing their meals when an older couple approached the family's table. The husband and wife appeared to be in their 70s, meaning they came from a world when family meant a working father and stay-at-home mom, with a son and a daughter and a dog and a cat, and meatloaf and mashed potatoes every Sunday night. That was the American way.
The husband stopped to tousle the little girl's hair.
"You have a gorgeous family," his wife said.
"Enjoy every minute," said the man.