Customers heard her before they saw her.
She tossed one-liners and cornbread across the dining room.
Her tongue was sharper than the restaurant's knives, but she also hollered "honey" and "sugar."
She remembered to refresh glasses of sweet tea before she was asked, and she remembered your name and asked about your mama.
Now, after 56 years of waitressing, including 43 in Columbus, Anne Stanbro figures it's time to hang up her tray.
"The doctors told me it would be best if I wouldn't waitress anymore," said Stanbro, 72, "but I've been a little grief-stricken by it."
'Like my family'
Stanbro started waitressing when she was 16, first at the Atlanta airport, then several places in Virginia, before following her fiance to Columbus in 1972.
"He brought me here to meet his mother," she said. "His mother was a doll, but he didn't work out."
Stanbro's first job in Columbus was at the Goetchius House, but that fine dining wasn't so fine for her. She lasted only three months because she set fire to a customer's coat instead of the dessert that was supposed to be flambe.
After a few years at Shoney's, she left to marry Richard, who died two years ago after 35 years of marriage. Stacy was born in 1976, and it was time for Stanbro again to serve someone who would tip.
That's when she arrived at Country Kitchen and found another home. The meat-and-three at 1151 27th St. is vacant now, but it still fills Stanbro's heart.
"Those people were like my family," she said.
Her boss there, Karl Ingram, called Stanbro more than a waitress.
"She cared about the people she served, their lives," he said. "When they got sick or their relatives died, she would get upset with them."
Stanbro would visit customers in the hos
pital and attend their funerals.
"She has a very soft side, but, on the outside, she was tough," Ingram said. "To be perfectly honest, she had 5 percent of the people who didn't like her but 95 percent who loved her."
Kay and Ron Cummings are among the latter. Since they moved to Columbus in 1978, they favored Stanbro so much, they followed her to each of her restaurants and requested her as their waitress -- even if they had to wait.
"She just can't do enough for you," Kay said. "She's a loving person, always giving gifts and helping someone in need."
Stanbro gave food to beggars and uniform pants to fellow waitresses. Ron remembers she also gave a customer $20 to help pay the rent.
"She's very caring, very full of life," said Kathy Wert, who waitressed with Stanbro at Shoney's and Country Kitchen. "She has a very dry sense of humor, so for people who didn't know her, they might have taken her wrong."
No wonder Ron nicknamed name her Flo, as in the waitress on the 1976-85 hit TV comedy "Alice."
In fact, Stanbro admits to telling a customer to "kiss my grits" -- but just in jest.
"You have to know who you can cut up with," she said.
"She was just comical, like a comedian," Ron said. "She would act like she was mad: 'I don't have to wait on you; there's plenty of other people here.'"
She also would tell customers they have a beautiful baby -- then add that it must be adopted.
"Some people would be offended, so you have to know who you can say that to," she said. "I guess God lays it on my heart."
Sometimes, however, customers couldn't see her heart. A past mayor's wife would leave the restaurant if she saw "that loud waitress" working there, Stanbro said.
'I spoke my mind'
Her longest stint was 17 years at the Country Kitchen. She worked at Linwood Lunch for eight years and at Ryan's for 8½ years.
Stanbro was part-owner with Roy and June Watson at Linwood Lunch. Roy laughed as he explained he and June actually didn't like Stanbro when they met her at Country Kitchen.
"She would holler to someone in the kitchen, 'Give me some bread,' and we were like, 'You're giving me a headache,'" Roy said. "I would go up to the cash register and stick out my hand for the change, and she would slap it on the counter. I thought, 'That woman is something else.'"
But after getting to know Stanbro and her Christian faith, Roy learned, "She really isn't that harsh."
Jim Jackson wouldn't want anyone else serving him and his family at Ryan's.
"She was the sweetest and most caring and sincere server I have ever known," Jackson said. "Some people do a job and they don't really like what they do, but she loved what she did and it came out in her personality."
It also came out of her mouth.
"They fired a boss of mine at Ryan's, and I just didn't think he was done right," Stanbro said. "I spoke my mind, so they fired me. But you know, honey? For every door that closes, another one opens."
But three months after starting to waitress at Cracker Barrel, she fell a few times elsewhere and injured her back.
"I was hurting so bad," she said, "I was crying at night."
After she was hospitalized, doctors prescribed her exercises, and now she is being tested for neuropathy in her legs.
'All I ever wanted to be'
Stanbro recalled someone telling her that all she ever would be is a waitress. She took the intended criticism as a compliment.
"That's all I ever wanted to be," she said. " It's the sweetness of the people. I loved being able to be myself with them."
She also saw her role as serving fellowship along with food and drinks. If she saw a glum customer, she would ask, "Is there something going on you want to talk to me about, honey?"
Most folks would say, "Just pray for me" or "I can't talk about it now," but some would open up to her.
"That's the greatest thing they could give you," she said. "It's a wonderful feeling."
As for her retirement plans, Stanbro is helping her granddaughter with filing two days per week in a tax service office. Friends say she should write a book about her waitressing adventures.
Stanbro won't wait on tables anymore, but she still has Daisy, her 12-year-old Pomeranian, to serve.
And her dog doesn't complain about how the meat is cooked.