Unexpected Mercy

As I was driving through a little town close to my hometown yesterday, I decided to stop for lunch at a cute, mom and pop diner along the main drag. I felt at home as I entered the diner where an assortment of country folk were enjoying their BBQ and root beer floats. Lots of plaid, ball caps, and half- empty coffee cups. I was alone so I made my way to the counter to sit on a bar stool. Having ordered my squash and field peas, I was looking forward to managing a quiet lunch while catching up on some reading.

Though there was other seating available, a smiling middle-aged man approached and with a heavy country accent, asked: “is this seat taken?” I said “no, feel free,” while secretly annoyed that he had parked it at this spot beside me. I don’t feel like talking and I definitely am not interested in you, I thought. I happened to have my best shirt on and frankly, –and this is not at all bragging– my hair was just working for me that day. Maybe I should have chosen the grungy look this morning, I thought.

As he settled in, I went back to my endeavors. Ironically, I was reading over some notes I’d taken on a recent talk about compassion and apparently, it wasn’t quite sinking in yet. The man began talking to the waiter as she came to ask his order; he unfolded a sad story, his husky voice trying unsuccessfully to hide the pain in it. Recently his daughter had suffered a traumatic brain injury that had rendered her a subsequent neurosurgery and was currently incapacitated, needing a ventilator to breathe for her.

Well, suffice it to say, I began feeling terribly guilty for my shallow first impressions of this man. I didn’t know what to say since I hadn’t technically been invited into this conversation. I’m a big fan of keeping my mouth shut if at all possible, especially when I haven’t a clue as to what I’m talking about.

As the waitress walked away, knowing nothing else to do, I leaned in closer to him as we both sat eating. We were close in our communal silence. It was as if he knew I was saying, “I hate this for you right now. And I’ll sit right here beside you as long as you need. Because when it comes down to it, you and me… we’re really not so different after all.”

Eventually, he slowly rose, smiled just slightly, and walked away.

And there I sat, having learned another lesson.

Sometimes just being close to someone, even a stranger, is enough when you are hurting so badly. And at the end of the day, all we can hope to do is take each others hands and walk each other home.

What are you learning these days? Pray, tell!

Strattons: An Ashland City Icon

Tonight, the family piled into the car and made our way to a place that has a very special place in our hearts where my dad grew up; it is so meaningful to me because I experienced man of my childhood happy moments there.

Strattons, a blast-from-the-past 50’s diner, is an icon of this small town. It sits on Main Street, welcoming any and all visitors to the little city of Ash trees. It has been around for years as the place to go when visiting. It has served many teenagers as the hangout after a Friday night football win at Cheatham County High. It has served many chocolate, strawberry, and vanilla milkshakes through the years… whatever a heart desired.

On a more personal note, it was the place that Gran and I often frequented. It was a treat to come to Strattons because I got to hang out with Gran and Aunt Beth (whom I affectionately call, Peptobismol–PB for short) and undoubtedly, we’d swing by Strattons for a couple of small hamburgers and a shake.

A couple weeks ago, I received word that Strattons was closing, the owner selling, and a Walgreens was set up to be built. A part of my heart broke just a little bit… maybe its because I still associate that restaurant with my Gran. And all I can do these days is associate memories and places with her because she’s gone to the other side of glory.

So the family piled up today to visit Strattons for the last time, as it is set to close its doors a week from today. Along with my grandpa, we arrived at Strattons and waited quite some time for a table; it seemed that everyone else had the same idea. It is quite a small establishment, but very cozy. The walls are lined with old Coca-cola and Orange Crush plaques, pictures of yester-year America.

Once we got settled into a booth, we ordered our favorites for the last time. A strawberry milkshake and a BLT for me please! As we sat and talked, I began looking around. I saw family after family sitting, laughing, recalling memories from this beloved restaurant. I began to realize that this building wasn’t just a building, but it was an idea as well. It represented the seasons and years that had passed with it welcoming those into the little town. It had seen both the joyous and lowly moments of residents. The feast and the famine. I had eaten and celebrated there on many occasions with my beloved Gran… but also cried there after her funeral. It had seen many people through the seasons of life… something that a Walgreens could never accomplish. Through thick and thin, Strattons was there.

As our food came, a customer walked up to the old-time Jukebox and put his money in to play a song. I wondered what his selection would be. Would it be a feel- good footloose song? Would we all get up and dance? No…it turned out to be something even more appropriate. “Hey Jude” ….Paul McCartney…the Beatles…a relic of a generation that is now fading. Just as Strattons will soon fade. It will only exist in the memories of those who loved it through the years. We are in a new decade, a new season of life, and though that brings a twinge of pain, it’s a good thing. We must grow and change…and love… we must love today…in this moment…in this season, because things and people change. Its inevitable. So love while you get the chance. And make memories of a lifetime. Thanks Strattons for the memories; thanks for making me smile.