The other day, my children and I found ourselves parked outside of a Cracker Barrel. We were traveling and needed a place to rest for awhile, so we pulled into the parking lot.
I noticed a sign that said, “Dining Room Open,” and I was shocked. I hadn’t seen a restaurant dining room open in months.
We needed to be at this exit for about an hour and a half until my parents arrived to meet us, and I couldn’t think of anywhere else to eat in the world that could possibly take up so much of our time. So, we decided to pull out our lovely Cracker Barrel gift cards from Christmas, and we headed inside for a warm meal in real, wooden chairs, next to a real, wood-burning fireplace.
It honestly felt like a little piece of Heaven after months of not sitting anywhere in public.
I helped our three little children into their chairs and buckled our fourth little one into her highchair. There weren’t any peg toys on the table, or crayons to color with, so I whipped out a few pens and we colored on napkins while we waited for our menus.
I was very aware that when my littlest one started crying, people seemed happy with this… it was almost like everyone had been hidden away in their homes for a few months or something.
Everyone seemed so happy to see and hear babies and children loudly expressing themselves again. (This is not always our typical experience in public. Side note – as my Dad has said before, my son would make an excellent auctioneer.)
I ordered a giant lemonade for us to split, and quickly realized that a single pancake on the children’s menu cost $4.00, which is fine – but meanwhile, an $8.00 adult meal provided 3 pancakes, scrambled eggs, and 3 slices of bacon… so that’s a no-brainer, right?
We asked for a couple of extra plates & ordered meals from the big menu to share.
Well, all this time, there was an elderly man sitting a couple tables away from us. The table between us was closed so that everyone could be spaced far apart in the dining room. So his seat directly faced where we sat.
After he finished his meal, the man came over and told me, “You sure have your hands full.”
It’s sometimes hard to tell at this point whether someone is happy to see us all together as a family, or annoyed that we’re standing in the way of their shopping cart or something.
I’ve learned to just smile.
So, I smiled, and said my typical response these days… that yes, I do have my hands full, and we also have another baby coming in a few months!
This is where people usually make some odd comment about how we must be Mormon or something (we’re Catholic), or they will make a face, or walk away.
But this man just smiled, and he looked at all of my children seated at the table together surrounding me. And I saw his eyes starting to tear up.
“You guys remind me of my family growing up,” he said. “Of all of us when we used to sit and eat with my Mother… and I just want you to know I’m paying for your meal. And the tip, and everything.”
And as he started to cry just a little bit, he walked away.
“Thank you so much!” I said. “You don’t have to do that, but thank you very much. That’s very kind of you!”
He turned back, and I asked him if he had a lot of brothers and sisters.
“Nine,” he said. And he smiled a very big smile, and his eyes welled up with tears as he left.
I pictured him sitting at the table as a little boy, one of ten children, with a mother serving them meals on ten little plates, pouring drinks, and tending to their needs.
Now time had sped forward, and he was all grown up. And now, here I was, a mother, with little ones surrounding me, and one more growing within.
This man was well-loved as a child. And he knew it.
He was probably in his late 70s, so I would bet that not all of his brothers and sisters are still living – his parents, too.
Do we know how good we have it, guys? Do we realize the blessings all around us? The babies crying, the straws falling on the floor, the spilled drinks, the chaos of raising children – one, or two, or ten?
I was completely in awe of the kindness of this stranger.
And now, it’s our turn, to pass it on…
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