Monday, October 27, 2014

One Stranger to Another

   Clad in a thin, red-flannel shirt and well-worn jeans the stranger looked like he’d fit right in with the regulars at Mom’s Café.  Marcie, scanning his tanned face and tired blue eyes asked, “Can I seat you at the counter or would you like that booth back in the corner?”
   The man gestured towards the back and was soon sitting alone with a steaming cup of coffee.  Apparently he didn’t want to fit right in.  
   During the next hour Marcie checked on him several times, but he was a man of few words.  He nursed another cup of coffee thoughtfully.
   Against the radio’s background music and the muted conversation of customers in front the man looked up as Marcie came over again, carrying a tray.
   “The cook sends over a complimentary cup of the soup he’s making for lunch.  See if he’s got the seasoning right or not.” She added with a smile, “Back in a little bit.” 
   Soon the place had nearly cleared out, breakfast concluded and the work day begun in the small farming town. Seemingly, everyone had something to do, except for the man in the back booth. 
   Marcie glided across the floor with the ever-present coffee carafe. “How was the soup?”  She filled the empty cup.  “We’re a friendly town…”
    “Good.  Thanks.  As a matter of fact, I’m just traveling through and ….”
   “Do you have a minute?” here Marcie allowed the briefest pause before plunging ahead, “You remind me of a very nice man, and I hope you don’t mind if I chat before things get busy in here again.”
   “Why, thank you, young lady.  As a matter of fact, maybe some talk of the crops or weather will take my mind off what’s been stewing on the back burner.”
   “I can’t believe my ears.  That’s exactly what my dad would say — ‘stewing on the back burner.’ In fact,” she admitted, “it’s my dad you resemble.  Go ahead and spill the beans if you want to.  You’ll be moving on soon enough, and maybe a stranger like me can be that listening post you need just now.”
   “Nah,” he responded.  “Tell me about yourself.  Are you a mind reader or just a very nice waitress?”
   With a far-away look in her brown eyes she softly replied, “My dad died in an accident ten months ago.  My heart was broken. We hadn’t been on very good terms…”
   Then, “I found a way to get through the pain; I guess I want every one to know there’s hope,” Marcie stated solemnly.
   At that the stranger nodded.  “I’m all ears, young lady.” 
   “Way before we opened that morning — I’ll always remember June 13 — I sat right where you are now, and I wrote one by one all my complaints against my family, the world, against God.  Each piece of paper was an anger, a fear, a hatred. Then I’d crumple up the slip like a tight little ball and throw it against that back wall. I cried, ‘Oh God, I can’t handle this.  Take it!’  Eventually, I reached for more paper.  Other aggravations came to mind, even some things from childhood.  Finally God gave me peace when I let go.” 
   A wry smile crossed the man’s face. “Why not?  I’ve got some time.”
   Soon he was writing on a piece of paper, a tablet on the table near the coffee cup.  Marcie disappeared into the kitchen. 
   When she came back he pointed to the papers.  “Everyone of them’s filled in.”
   “OK, let ’er fly!”
   The café that had been busy earlier was now empty.  For the young waitress and the stranger some private business was taking place.  After awhile she put more paper in front of him and nodded, “Go ahead.  All of them.”
   Time no longer mattered. A great discovery had brought a great relief.  Finally straightening up, the man smiled, “Didn’t I see a church with a cross on a steeple across from the courthouse square?”
   “Yes,” Marcie agreed, “and it’s a fine place to talk with a pastor.  I know, because he’s my father’s older brother.”
   All the while neither had heard the radio’s incessant musical background, but surely there was music in Heaven.  And if smiles could be heard instead of merely seen, that café must have been a symphony of joy. From one stranger to another, it had been a day of discovery. 

by Elaine Hardt ©2001