I got up this morning in the usual way, in terrible pain but functional, and needed to run a few errands. As I left the house, I was contemplating lunch and talked myself into Waffle House. I rarely go there and Lord knows I don’t need it, but I decided to stop in for one last texas cheesesteak plate before I return to a highly restricted, heart-healthy diet.
I sat down and ordered. Behind me, a man walked by and was talking to the waitress. He wasn’t making a lot of sense, and I could tell that he wasn’t quite right in the head. I sipped my coca-cola for a minute and then I heard the man yell across the room “Did you know that you can copy a 20 dollar bill on the copy machine and it will work in a casino?” I wondered who he was talking to, but didn’t look his direction. He said “She’s not gonna talk to me…” and the waitress approached me and said “He’s talking to you.”
“OH! I’m sorry…” I said as I turned to him and smiled.
Him: Do you know that college called USA?
Him: Some kids from that college copied 20 dollar bills on a copy machine and went to Atlantic City. The bills worked! But do you know where they got caught?
Him: The Cat House!
Me: Oh no! Haha…
Him: There was a write up in the paper about it. Did you know that I copied a 5 dollar bill on a copy machine, put it in a Pepsi machine, and it gave me a Pepsi and change?
Me: Oh wow...
I received my food at that point, and turned around to eat. The man kept talking loudly, to whoever would listen to him I guess. I figured he was in his 70’s or 80’s, and had some kind of mental condition. As I was eating, he got up and paid for his food. I overheard him say to the waitress, “See that girl sitting right there? See her? She’s sitting right there. I want to pay for her coke. Because she talked to me.”
I pretended that I had not heard him. Then he walked back by…
Him: Your drink is paid for.
Me: Oh, well thank you so much!
Him: If you would have sat over there with me, I would have paid for all of it.
Me: Haha, oh well thank you…
Him: My wife is dying. She’s not going to make it to Christmas.
He burst into tears. I’m almost sure my jaw hit the floor.
Me: I AM SO SORRY...I’m SO sorry to hear that.
Him: Sixty years. We’ve been together sixty years. She’s dying of cancer.
Me: I am so sorry. I’m so sorry. I have a friend with cancer and she’s very sick…I don’t know how long she’s going to be around. It’s really tough.
Him: Sixty years. The same wife. Sixty years.
Me: I am so sorry. That’s such a long time. Wow. I’m so sorry that she’s sick.
Him: Can I sit here?
Me: Yeah, of course.
I moved my stuff and he sat by me.
Him: Are you from here?
Me: Yeah. Well I’m from Mississippi, but…yeah.
He started talking about the “good ‘ol days” and how things were so much quieter and simpler back then. Said he never had to lock his door, and would leave the key in his ignition and never had to worry about someone stealing the car. He said he collected stuff and that he had several 13 gallon barrels filled with silver (as in silver dollars). “I guess I need to get rid of all of it”, he said. He talked about being drafted in WWII and the Korean War. Then he switched conversations again…
Him: Whatever you do, don’t go to Providence Hospital. They lied to me. They lied. They said nothing was wrong with me, and the next day I was having pain and ended up in surgery for colon cancer.
Me: Oh my goodness…
He proceeded to tell me about his experience in detail, including when he got out of surgery and couldn’t eat anything without throwing up…as I’m sitting there trying to eat my cheesesteak sandwich and hash browns. Ha! Serves me right for blogging about my dysfunctional uterus.
Him: Are you headed to Tillman’s Corner from here?
Me: Um, probably…
Him: Oh well Tillman’s Corner, you know that Goodwill store?
Me: Uh huh…
Him: Well if you go in there, find me and I can give you a 20 percent discount. I get a senior discount you know. Did you know that?
Me: Oh ok. No, I sure didn’t.
Him: Did you know that they don’t even ask me my age anymore? They just look at my hair.
Him: Do you know where I met my wife?
Him: The skating rink!
Me: You did? Aw, that’s great!
Him: If you ever want to meet someone, go to either a church or a skating rink. Whatever you do, don’t go to the taverns!
Me: Haha…oh no I don’t go there. I’m a church girl.
He’s still crying off and on…says it’s because he’s thinking about his wife of sixty years.
He talked for a while, then got up and said “Thank you for talking to me.” He went to walk out the door and said “If you go to Goodwill, come find me”.
Me: I will, thanks so much.
Him: There in Tillman’s Corner.
Me: Yes sir, thank you. Have a good day…God bless ya.
And he left. It was all I could do to hold it together. I paid my bill, sans coke, and drove to Walmart and cried. A divine appointment, at Waffle House of all places. Somehow, God used me to touch his life by simply being there when he needed someone to listen. But I can tell you that I didn’t touch his life nearly as much as he touched mine. It was a tremendous reminder that you never know what someone has been through or what they may be going through right now. It was a reminder that no matter what kind of hell you’re dealing with, someone always has it worse by a mile, and that we should always count our blessings. And it was a reminder of how such a small thing as a smile, a shoulder to cry on, a free coke, a skating rink love story, and good old fashioned respect can make an eternal impact in the lives of two hurting strangers at Waffle House.