AUBURN — Every morning, Mary Ann Gallant walks in with baked goods and a laugh, as much a fixture as the booths and the All-American Slam.

The 73-year-old retired as a Denny’s hostess two years ago, but she’s never left. It’s where her friends are.

“You meet a lot of people,” Gallant said. “Meeting people, that’s my best thing.”

She’s quick to smile, quick to share her love of country singer Alan Jackson. Her license plate is ALN JAXN; she got his face tattooed on her back six years ago, her first and last tattoo unless she can get him to autograph it.

“I’ve seen him 20 times, I’ll see him again,” she said.

Gallant originally moved to the area from New Brunswick with her ex-husband 53 years ago. 

“Everybody was coming to Massachusetts,” she said. “We stopped here to visit his cousin; we stayed. I didn’t know anybody, I couldn’t talk English, it was a little scary at first.”

She’d take walks outside circling her building so she didn’t get lost. Gradually, she got to know the community and the community to know her. She worked many years in hotels and landed at Denny’s in 1999, where she’s known as Marie.

Bob Murch of Greene and his wife, Debra, have lunch there almost every day.

Gallant has battled rheumatoid arthritis and beaten cancer, yet even when she’s in pain, “You’ll never know it,” he said. “For me, she’s kind of a great inspiration for looking at the positive and putting other people first.”

“She likes everybody and has the ability to get along with absolutely anybody and can pull the best out of people,” Murch said.

And then there’s Gallant’s baked goods.

Every night, after her TV shows or bingo games, Gallant settles in to bake and loads up a little plastic pail with the fruits of her kitchen. Banana bread. Fudge. Cookies.

“If I don’t bring something, I’m lost. I’m sitting there at night, ‘what can I make?'” she said.

Friends bring flour, sugar, baking powder and molasses to her by way of thanks. Not that it happens much, but two regulars have standing offers to eat any cookies she burns.

She’s at Denny’s most every day from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m., and it warrants a concerned call if she’s not. Home base in the restaurant is a tall seat at the counter. Moving from table to table, she and friends catch up, share stories and gossip.

“The guys are worse than the women,” Gallant said. “If something happens, I find out.”

Her three children and six grandchildren are her life, Gallant said. “I’m very proud of them.”

But that country singer on her back clearly holds a special place, too. She’s traveled to Nashville 10 times to see him and hopes to go again this summer. Someday, she just might get that signature.

“When I die, I want my ashes spread over Alan Jackson’s house,” Gallant said with a wide smile. “I’ve got a friend that drives a plane. The fortuneteller says I’ve got a long way to go.”

Know someone that everyone knows? Contact staff writer Kathryn Skelton at 689-2844 or [email protected]


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