On the high holidays, my family travels to southern Oklahoma. My in-laws live just above the north side of the Red River bottom. Most mornings while visiting, my autistic son and I make the 20 minute drive south into Texas, to Bonham, to take our breakfast. Like his father, my youngest son is an early riser.
He is partial to McDonalds pancakes. I like their coffee. So McD's it usually is.
At sunrise on this past Thanksgiving, after crossing an aged truss bridge spanning Oklahoma into Texas my son yelped from the backseat. I dutifully pulled off the almost empty blacktop and snapped a photo of the Thanksgiving morning sun breaking over a ground mist. The resulting photograph has provided a kind of ill defined incandescent hope for the future this season. Perhaps it is nothing more than some mornings the synapses fire just a bit quicker. Perhaps it is nothing more than paying attention rather than living by rote.
I imagine working the counter of a McD's on a Thanksgiving could make anyone cranky, but not so this gracious lady. She leaned down into my non-verbal son's line of sight and said, "Good morning." She then proceeded to save us $3.00 on breakfast while chatting him up. She told him the money saved could be used by Santa Claus while winking, "If you've been a good boy, of course" to which I demurred, as parents will do. "Santa's gonna run outta money before he gits to me" she then said, sliding our breakfast across the counter.
Then an older man with in a Christmas sweater, wrangler jeans and a cap walked up. You see, when I visit, there is always a bevy of older men, congregating like wild game to a morning waterhole for breakfast at that McD's. I am sure another group of men met at a local cafe a generation ago, but in what is probably a sign of our times, this group meets at the McD's to sip coffee, to talk their politics, and of course, gripe about all things cattle.
This man in the sweater is different. I have been talking my son to this McD's for maybe 5 years, but only during the times I travel to my in-laws for holidays. I do not think I have been there for 6 to 8 months. Yet this old man knows my son and never do we cross the threshold of this McD's without him making a point to say a good word. Heck, he waived at us before we got inside - it was like he had been waiting for us since last spring.
He seemed visibly older this Thanksgiving, stubbled whiskers framing a gaunt face. He had told me once - last year - he had a son, maybe a nephew who was "special" as he put it. He too, leaned down, senior coffee in one hand, hugged my son and told him hello and asked how he was. I answered and he gave a side hug to my son and smiled at me before returning to his coffee and conversation.
Then Christmas Eve, it happened again. This time my autistic son and I were patronizing the Brookshire Brothers grocery store near the McDonalds I write about above. As we checked out, the cashier asked "do you have a Brookshire card?" Like many grocers, Brookshire Brothers uses this card to promote loyalty by saving frequent customers money. I explained to the cashier, alas, I had no such card. I was in the midst of wrangling my son and paying the cashier when the woman behind me stepped up and handed the cashier her Brookshire card. Just like that, I saved $5.00 on $25.00 worth of purchases.
"Merry Christmas" this generous woman said with a smile.
Merry Christmas to you as well, I told her. And to you, Bonham.
The cynic was nigh,
And said with neither pretense, nor sly,
'You, my dear sir, will be taught lessons
In of all places, Bonham, Texas.'