Monday, July 4, 2011

Unexpected Gift

It’s the unexpected gifts we remember - not the gifts we receive for holidays or birthdays, but the ones we are given "just because." I received an unexpected gift this week. It came from someone I had never met before, in of all places a restaurant.
It was an idyllic summer day. Clouds danced cheek to cheek across a brilliant blue sky. My son and I, my sister-in-law and her children, decided to check out a new BBQ restaurant that was near the Breaks Park. We met there for lunch before exploring the park. The minute I saw the place I was hooked. It was an old wooden building with the BBQ actually being made right beside of it. The minute we stepped out of the car, the sweet smoke filled my senses making my stomach rumble.
The inside of the place called “Southern Smoke” was delightfully retro. It was decorated like an old southern person’s house – a jumble of things that should have been thrown away years ago but “you just couldn’t part with them.” It succeeded where other fancier restaurants fail. You know the ones that buy antique toys and pictures to hang on the wall in an ultra-modern building.
Southern Smoke was nothing fancy, just tables and booths covered in red plastic table cloths and a counter with stools where you could eat peering through the door to the kitchen. It didn’t have to be fancy, the attention was on the food, like it should be. Their decorations consisted of signs in all sizes and shapes, colors and textures, and every available space was filled with them. Some I’d seen before like the Irish blessing:
Dance as though no one is watching you,
Love as though you have never loved before,
Sing as though no one can hear you,
Live as though heaven is on earth.
Others were pure Southern humor! One that sticks out in my mind said: I’m working so I can enjoy the lifestyle of my wife and daughter. Then I found one in the bathroom, yes, the bathroom walls were also covered in signs, that I absolutely loved! It was an oval sign done in hot pink and zebra stripe. On it was a black high heel shoe trimmed in hot pink. It said: You can never have too many friends or shoes.
As I was paying my bill and getting ready to leave, I remarked that I fell in love with the “shoe” sign.
“Which one?” A lady behind the counter asked.

“The one in the bathroom.” I then went on to explain that I had a novel called “Mama’s Shoes” that was going to be published soon and that sign reminded me of my book.

The woman then stepped from behind the counter and headed for the bathroom. Throwing over her shoulder, “Now which one is it?”

I followed her and pointed to the sign, asking where she got it. She took the sign off the wall and stepped out of the bathroom. She turned it over to look on the back and showed it to me. She said, “It came from Ross’s.”

“Great,” I said. “I’ll head over there and see if they have anymore.”

“No need to do that,” she said, handing me the sign.

For a moment I stood there staring at her. It hadn’t occurred to me she was giving me the sign. Then she pressed it in my hand, and I realized she was giving it to me. I said, “I can’t take your sign!
She said, “Why not, it’s mine and I can give it to anyone I want.”
There was not even a hint of a smile on her face. It was like she was going to me mad if I refused to take it, so I clutched the sign to my chest and said, “Thank you! This is wonderful!” Then she smiled and led me back to the front of the restaurant where she slipped behind the counter. I thanked her again and told her I planned to put it next to my books if I was lucky enough to do book readings.

She smiled and said, “Just bring me one of your books when you get it. I read all the time.”

I laughed and agreed. A fair trade, I thought, looking down at my new sign. But I plan to visit there long before my book is published because the food was fantastic, second only to the southern hospitality.

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