It was a wet and dreary morning in Mississippi as my husband and I rolled down the interstate on our quest to find a good hot breakfast. As the rains intensified we decided to exit the freeway and meander through the winding back roads. At the stop sign we noticed a restaurant through the streaks of the windshield wipers and with a slight hesitation, we turned toward the Huddle House.
As we entered the front door the wet floor sign welcomed us with a friendly warning, although it appeared to be a permanent fixture, as the grease from the open grill gently caressed everything in it’s path and the added moisture tracked in from outside made it more like a skating rink than a restaurant. We slid into an open booth and surveyed the rest of the travelers in the huddle. It was only the second time I had ever been in a Huddle House.
Our waitress carefully maneuvered the slippery floor and took our order. Her name tag read Thelma and with a quiet demeanor she quickly picked up our menus and scooted back behind the counter. I wondered, as she put in our order, how she came to be a waitress in this place.
In the background we could hear the manager blurting out orders to the cook and asserting her power like a drill sergeant over her regiment. Men lined up at the long cold stainless bar watched as she rang up tickets and delivered the plates down the line.
Thelma brought our coffee and creamer and told us our food would be ready soon. She had long dark hair pulled up into a tousled bun and walked with a slow steady pace. Her countenance appeared sad and was overshadowed by a long pale face. Thin, forward sagging shoulders donned a soiled apron that was a tad too long for her short young frame.
Breakfast arrived and she refilled our coffee. Undercooked eggs and margarine slathered toast on white plastic plates. I guess the cook decides how you’re going to have your eggs. I ate around the edges of my toast and soaked up what yolk was acceptable. I couldn’t complain, it was just what I expected.
Thelma made her way back to our table to drop the check and see if we were doing ok. I nodded yes since I didn’t trust myself to open my mouth. I watched her as she sauntered back behind the counter looking soberly out the windows as if she were longing for something or someone to come to her rescue. You never know exactly what a person is going through in life, or why he or she would stay in a place where they are unhappy. You can have a want to do something different in your life. It takes courage. A lot of courage.
I paid our ticket at the register and handed Thelma a generous tip. It was not enough to change her life but it did bring a smile to her face. As I pushed my shoulder into the door I glanced back. We exchanged smiles and I wondered… what Thelma’s fate would be.