Listen to poem:
The biggest funeral I've ever attended...
Thelma was a waitress at the diner on the corner of 4th and Oak, across from Ron’s DX, in Abilene.
They had an old brass register that rang when it was opened, which I believed to be the coolest thing I’d ever seen.
She wore without a doubt the brightest lipstick ever made. Her hair was just about as red…and always tightly curled.
Mom and Dad would take me there on really big occasions…they had the greatest root beer floats and french-fries in the world.
Once…when I was eight years old…the three of us were eating, when everybody turned - the way they do - to check the door.
A young girl, with a baby and her husband, quietly entered. They glanced around to find a seat…then moved across the floor.
Sitting down not far from us, I heard the young man say, “We’ve only got enough to buy one meal. We’ll have to share.”
I was just a bit confused to see how they were smiling, when Mom leaned down and whispered, “Dear...it’s not polite to stare.”
Even though I looked the other way, I still could hear them, “We need to get some milk to feed the baby, right away.”
I kept peeking back at them. It made me kind of sad to know they’d have to share a meal because they couldn’t pay.
That’s when good old Thelma waddled up to take their order. Perhaps a tad bit heavy, but she had a lovely smile.
People always said that, “Nothing ever gets past Thelma,” so it was no surprise that she’d been listening all the while.
“Do you need a minute, folks…or would you like to order?” she asked them, as she stood there, with her pencil and her pad.
“We’ll just share some scrambled eggs and ham,” the young boy said. “And can we get a little glass of milk?” the girl would add.
“You sure can. I’ll be right back,” she said, and then departed. The frail, young girl reached out and took her husband’s waiting hand.
Both of them - still smiling - as I watched her hold it gently…caressing, very tenderly…his shiny wedding band.
By the way he gazed at her, why…anyone could tell that he’d have done most anything to prove how much he cared. Even as an eight-year old…I knew this struggling couple couldn’t have loved each other more had they been millionaires.
Then, at last, the call rang out from somewhere in the kitchen. The old, familiar voice said, “Thelma Lou, your order’s up.” She was chatting softly with some lady at the counter…both of them were chuckling, as she filled her coffee cup.
All the other people that were sitting in her section now had finished eating or
had paid their bill and gone…
Which meant, of course, the order that was “up” was headed for -- the only table left to serve that she was waiting on.
Right away she hurried off to fetch the single meal. She always did her best to make sure everything was hot.
But as I watched her lay the plates of food out on their table, I was just amazed at how much food that couple got!
Me and Dad and Mom together couldn’t have polished off all those scrambled eggs and ham. I couldn’t believe my eyes!
The glass of milk was twice the size of all their largest drinks, and every time I talk about that day…my mother cries.
Three or four years later - I believe when I was twelve - a friend of mine, a girl from school, got very, very sick.
The doctor said they’d have to find a special type of kidney to save her life, and nothing short of that would do the trick.
The paper ran a story telling what her chances were, and how the kidney had to be a very special kind.
My parents broke the news to me, as gently as they could, that what my friend was needing would be very hard to find.
Then, a few days later, they would print another story:
“KIDNEY FOUND! A MIRACLE!” - is how the headline read.
It told of how the “tricky operation” was successful…but as for who the donor was…the paper never said!
Three months later, that girl’s folks would have another baby - a little girl with golden hair, and eyes of azure blue.
And I recall my mother’s tears when she informed my father that they had named their newborn baby…“Thelma Lou!”
And, just a couple years ago…when Frank and Addie Campbell missed the curve at Turkey Creek…and Franklin lost his life,
Addie wound up destined for a nursing home…alone…something Frank had always vowed to somehow spare his wife.
Well into her nineties…with no relatives at all…no property - or savings - or insurance to her name,
Addie understood that there was no place left to go…but when the time to take her to the rest-home finally came,
To the town’s amazement…‘til old Addie passed away, to spend her days in heaven with her Franklin once again,
And with no compensation ever given, or expected…that chubby, red-haired waitress, from the diner…took her in.
Those are just a few things that I know that Thelma did to help…through troubled times…some folks she didn’t even know.
Mom, throughout her life, believed that Thelma was a saint. And now I know the reason why, whenever we would go
Down to that old restaurant, if Thelma was our waitress, instead of leaving just a dollar…Dad would leave her two!
Today it’s clear as heck to me the diner’s finest asset wasn’t floats or french-fries…it was actually…Thelma Lou.
Now…at sixty-five years old…I’m sitting here this morning, listening to the reverend…as I dab my tears away…
Really not surprised at all to see so many people gathered here inside this church to say goodbye today.
Thelma touched so many lives, and I agree with Mother - she had to be a saint to do the wondrous things she did. I know first hand about her giving ways because…for me…it started at the diner, back when I was just a kid.
Copyright © Mark Stellinga | Year Posted 2021