“I come from a family where gravy is considered a beverage.”
“Never eat more that you can lift.”
That was some of the graffiti written on the black walls of the market in yellow chalk. It was lunchtime and I was waiting for Teddy Merkle, my good friend from childhood, to show up.
The roadside café was in a small town near Boones Creek, settled in South Carolina. The town is so small the city jail is called amoeba, because it only has one cell. Their phone book has only one page.
I grabbed the paper lunch menu from the counter and sat down at a table by the window. Teddy was never really a punctual guy. Plus, being the holiday weekend, he probably was caught in heavy traffic with the long line of boaters headed to Lake Keowee to fish and water ski.
Across the street was the Boones Creek Baptist Church. They had a sign on their front lawn that read, “CH- -CH, What’s missing? You are!” It was great advertising for all the tourists.
The short-order cook behind the counter called out the names of those who already ordered their meals. He shouted out, “Travis?”… “Barney?”… “Gary?” I scanned the tables and tried to guess who would pop-up to pick-up a greasy bacon cheeseburger, or healthy Greek salads, or a simple hotdog.
The cook called out, “Bart?” An elderly man stood up from the table next to me. His wife who was sitting with him smiled over to me as if they just won a Bingo tournament. I guess they were married for over 50 years. Their white hair matched their neatly pressed clothes. They were dressed in their summer best. It was obvious that the flame has not gone out in their marriage judging by how close they sat together at the table.
As Bart passed me, I asked him if he needed any help carrying their plates to their table. He smiled and politely said, “Thanks, but I’m okay.” I sense that he did not want to lose the opportunity to serve his wife as he has done for many years. I imagine that it was a gracious habit that started on his first date years ago and that he did not want his chivalry to die.
A stream of people filed through the front doors. Some were picking up bags of ice to fill up their coolers and others stocked up on booze and fireworks. I didn’t see anyone getting carded. I imagine the laws must be more lax in the deep south.
There still was no sign or text from Teddy. I decided to get a cold Diet Coke. It was over 90 degrees outside and I needed to cool off.
The conscientious teenager at the register looked like she just completed her freshman year of high school. Her gold name tag had “Ashley” printed on it. She asked me with her native southern drawl, “Is that all sir?”
I said, “Yes, that’s all for now. I am waiting for a guy to come, and then we’ll order when he shows up.” The expression on her face told me she automatically knew from the sound of my voice that I talked funny, and that I was certainly not from Boones Creek.
I asked her, “Is this your job for the summer?” “Yes, sir.” she responded.
“Does it pay much?” I asked.
“Not really,” She said. “But it’s one of the better jobs I was able to find.” She then humbly admitted, “This is my first job. That will be $1.65, sir”
As I handed her a twenty dollar bill from my wallet I had a mental flashback to my first summer job where I washed dishes in a pizza parlor when I was sixteen. I rememberstanding by the hot ovens and trying to keep up with the pile of dirty dishes loading up on my left. I remember getting my first pay-check and staring at it; realizing how much work goes into making a decent buck. It was one of the best lessons of my life.
The girl handed back my change. I said, “You can keep it.
Her eyes bugged out. “I can’t sir. It’s too much. I can’t take it.
I tried not to insult her. I said, “Please. Just keep it. You don’t make much working here. Treat yourself to something.” Then I walked away before she could reach over the conveyor belt and hand back the wad of bills.
I sat back down at the table by the window and sipped on the Diet Coke. Still no sign, text or call from Teddy.
I glanced over at the check-out counter. Ashley was chatting with another teenage girl who worked at the market about the tip she just got. I tried to hide among the patrons so that I would not be pointed out by the clerk.
When the two teens ended their brief huddle, Ashley walked over to the deli counter. I did not want to give the impression that I was spying on her. She put the money in the tip jar right by the ketchup and mustard packets. It was a simple sign that the she wanted to share the gift she received with her co-workers instead of secretly pocketing it for herself. It was a moment of honesty that will stay with her, and one that she will carry into her future jobs. Stuff like this never shows up on a resume.
Just then, Teddy walked into the market. He spotted me by the window and sat down. He said, “Hi Father. Sorry I’m late. I got caught behind a guy pulling a pontoon boat up the hill. This is an interesting little place. How’s the food?”
“I don’t know about the food, but the people are really nice here.” I told him. “Lunch is on me.”
Teddy said, “Great. I can leave the tip.”
I smiled to myself, knowing that Teddy just missed a parade of kindness.
I looked up at the wall and saw written, “Come unto me, all ye that labor in the stomach, and I will restore you.” – M. Boulanger.
God has an interesting way of feeding our souls.