Sitting at a table, sipping his coffee, surrounded by his friends, Fred Crim was not happy to be the center of attention Thursday morning, March 23.
His friends were laughing and passing around a catalogue of Spam-themed memorabilia, from T-shirts and coffee mugs to posters and ties. They all thought it was a great joke, but Crim had a different idea.
"With friends like this, I don't need any enemies," he growled, then broke into a chuckle. "If I had known they were doing this, I wouldn't have come by for coffee."
Thursday was Crim's 83rd birthday. To mark the occasion, a group of his friends planned a surprise birthday party. Unfortunately, the theme for the party was Spam, the pinkish-hued processed meat that came into popularity during World War II.
Crim, a WWII veteran, tried repeatedly to tell his friends that he never had to eat Spam during the war, but it was more fun for them to pester their friend with a Spam party.
One of his friends, Louis Priebe, went so far as to have a Spam Fan Club chapter opened in Crim's name.
"Several years ago, someone brought up the subject of Spam and Fred just took off on a vigorous assault about it," Priebe said. "We've had a lot of fun with him about that ever since. It's a guy thing."
Another friend, Korean war veteran Jack Lykins, said Crim had every right to be annoyed with their sense of humor.
"He's 83 years old. Of course he's crabby, but he's entitled to it," Lykins said.
THE GROUP of nearly a dozen friends has been meeting several times a week for coffee at the McDonalds at 6219 Rolling Road for about a decade, said Gordon Lancaster, who was enjoying a piece of birthday cake — adorned with a picture of a Spam can — with his wife, Irene Lancaster.
"We wanted to be here for his birthday, but we're usually here anyway," Gordon Lancaster said. "Some of us are here seven days a week."
Irene Lancaster said that, despite their sarcastic sense of humor, "this is the best group of people you can find here in West Springfield. We help each other and look after each other."
Through the years, they have talked about everything from family and friends to the taboo subjects of religion and politics.
"We even discussed that place up here where they used to do burlesque shows," Irene Lancaster said.
Ken Bounds said his daughter grew up with Crim's daughter, graduating from West Springfield High School one year apart in the 1970s. He and Crim have been friends for decades, and he swears the only reason they threw him a party based on Spam was because "we like him."
"If we didn't, we wouldn't have anything to celebrate," he said. "Fred's a great man."
Pastor Ralph Rowley of the Messiah Methodist Church, where Crim has been treasurer for several years, stopped by for some cake and chuckles.
"We had a big celebration for his 80th birthday at the church and the fellowship hall was packed," Rowley said. "He's a part of our family, we just love him."
Rowley, who grew up eating Spam, said he could appreciate Crim's "disdain" for the mystery meat.
"I just didn't know it was a bad thing back then," he said.
Even though he knew his friends were joking, Crim said he'd rather be at the church, doing his work.
"This party is the pits," he said. "I had a nicer party yesterday."