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Due North

Nestled back among the towering pine trees, I happened upon an old railroad car sitting on a piece of abandoned track. I noticed a sign hanging on a pole at the front, of the parking lot. I read the sign and learned that its original owner had converted the old railroad car into a diner, back in 1985. 

A wooden walkway is lined with vibrant wildflowers. I saw that in a side yard was a birdbath & bird feeders to attract the local birds. A young blue jay was splashing in the birdbath and several small chickadees were eating at one of the feeders. By the front door, lay an old German Shepherd, who gave his tail a little wag when I walked by. 

I entered the diner through a swinging glass door that has a zigzag crack in the lower right hand corner. A paper bag floats in the gentle breeze, hanging from a faded yellow string by the front door; the purpose of the bag is to catch flies. Upon entering, the over powering smell of greasy food & stale air assailed my senses.

I glanced down at the old floor, noticing the black and white checkerboard design. Some of the squares are chipped and cracked, showing the original wooden flooring, owing to the many feet who have scuffed across the tiles. I notice a wall of floor to ceiling windows along the front; about ten wooden booths line these windows. The wooden booths have aged red cushions on them, with some cushions showing stuffing. I see that most of the benches are stained with grease from many hands using them as napkins.

Across from the timeless wooden booths, is a counter with swinging stools along the front. I see cases of tantalizing cookies and doughnuts, at the ends of the counter. I notice that an old fifties style jukebox sits in a corner, of the diner. I hear Garden Party by Ricky Nelson playing on the jukebox. Along with the jukebox, I notice old pinball machines dusty from little use.
A waitress, Gail, comes over to escort me to my seat. I exchanged hellos with her and she waits while I decide what to have. "Gail I think I will have a cheeseburger with the works, coleslaw and fries on the side." Gail then asks, "What will you have to drink?" I reply, "An iced tea, please." When Gail leaves to give my order to the cook, Charlie, I notice that the table where I am seated has doodles on it. I see a number of hearts with names inside of them, true marks of puppy love. 

I hear, mixed in with the fifties music, the sounds of the kitchen: grease frying, Charlie yelling orders "Get those burgers off the grill, they're about to burn", dishes clanking against each other. A glass drops and shatters, Gail swears "Shit". 

Many voices around me are having various conversations: "I'm from Tennessee heading up to Maine for college", "I'm from Florida, up north here to see my step father", " my wife died and I am on the road with my three kids". All of the various conversations sound like a hive of busy bees buzzing.

The waitress's rush about cleaning tables and taking orders. Above each of the booths are single lamps with faded green shades hung with faded gold chains. The lamps sway, in the gentle breeze, that is coming through the back screen door.

My food comes and I thank Gail for being so fast. After I am done eating, I head off to the bathroom. Man, was that an adventure! The bathroom is small, cramped, and smells like an outhouse. 

The toilet paper was on the back of the toilet, because the toilet paper holder was broken. I see that the only soap on the sink is old and crusty. I bravely use that scummy soap anyway. I actually noticed the wallpaper, because it was so different from other wallpaper I have seen. This wallpaper had pictures of different kinds of food on it from cabbages to kiwis. 

There was one small window in the bathroom that I tried to open, but it was stuck one inch up. Therefore, no fresh air enters the stink hole. I thought, "Great, I pick the one place that looks cool, but is falling apart". The doorknob is broken and I had to put a log behind it while I did my business. However, I think, a strong person could still pry their way into the bathroom. 

After I was done doing my business, I went up to the counter to pay my bill and buy some of those tantalizing cookies. On my way up to the counter, a little boy, about seven, bumps into me.
I ask him what his name is and he replies, "My name is Tanner and I am sorry I bumped into you, I was on my way to the bathroom". I tell Tanner, "My name is Kay and it was okay he bumped into me". 

After Tanner goes on his way, I realize how shabby his clothes were. Tanner's clothes looked washed, but the shirt had holes in it. I was still waiting at the counter for my cookies, when I saw little Tanner come back from the bathroom.

I causally watched the sweet little boy make his way back to his family. Tanner's family was sitting in a corner booth and there were three other members in his family, a father, a sister and a brother however, I noticed no mother. While I was daydreaming about whether or not I could help these strangers, someone else notices Tanner's family.

A single father, Ian, is on the road with his three kids after his beloved wife died of cancer. The man came from Kentucky and is traveling due north, because there were no jobs in Kentucky for an all around handy man. Ian thought that maybe he could get a decent job up north to support his young children: Tanner 7, Damian 6, and little Holly 4. 

Ian was grateful that his children were so well behaved and polite. The three kids were playing with the pinball machines, while Ian poured over the want ads in a local paper. His shoulders were slumped over and his face shows the stress, he is surely feeling. It was hard raising three kids, all under the age of ten.

A kindly old farmer, Peter, takes notice of Ian and his children. He watches them over his coffee cup. Peter wonders how he might be able to help this poor man, and then a lighting bolt strikes him. He thought, "Why not ask this stranger to come and work on my dairy/sheep farm?" 

Holly runs over to her father and starts begging for more quarters. Ian sadly shakes his head and tells his little girl that he had no more quarters for her. Holly begins to whimper and then stops at the look on her Daddy's face. 

She tells him "Daddy don't worry I don't need any more quarters." Tanner & Damian come over and join their family. Then, Gail brings over their meager meal: one plain burger for everyone and a coke to share, no extra money for fries or desserts.
The young children take to the rugged old farmer instantly, with his sun brunt wrinkled face and his old cowboy hat. To get the children out of the way, so that he can get down to business, Peter gives the children some money to buy ice cream cones at the counter.

The ecstatic children yell "Thanks" and rush off for their treasures. Ian asks Peter, "Why did you just give money to my little children for?" Peter replies, "Because I own a big dairy/sheep farm about ten miles down the road & I noticed the want ads open." Continuing Peter says,"I just lost my right hand man and I was wondering if you would take on the important job of assistant farm manager." 

Ian agrees to take on the job at the farm and he shakes hands with Peter to seal the deal. Ian calls over his children to tell them the good news. Holly asks her father, "Can I go to school now?" Her father replies, "Yes, you and your brothers will go to school." 

I know all of this, because i meandered over to offer Ian some money for new clothes for his sweet children. I also became his wife and mother to Tanner, Damian and Holly. We all live on Peter's farm & regularly go back to that old diner for lunch on Saturdays.

To think my future was shaped at an old worn down diner, where strangers became friends. Because of that diner, a family was born & friendships made.


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Book: Shattered Sighs