When I travel and when I write, I notice that little miracles tend to occur along the way. That longed-for phrase finally pops into my head to fit the sentence perfectly. The metaphor I’ve been chasing like a loose rooster suddenly stops so I can swoop it up and put it in the pot to stew.
When I travel, invariably someone, often a stranger, performs an act so kind that I can barely believe it. I can only hope that I am that person for someone else once in awhile. These things I call “little miracles.” They happen all the time; everyday, I’m sure. But we have to be paying attention in order to catch them before they fly past. And (this is the hard part) we have to show a little faith in the basic goodness of life (even in these “mortal coils” we call our fellow beings) in order to catch the miracles at work.
Leigh and I were five hours into our Atlanta vacation where we were headed to hear our favorite band, Roxie Watson, play when the first “little miracle” occurred. We got away from Fayetteville later than we intended (of course), so by the time we reached Russellville, AR we were already hungry. Well, I happen to know that the best hamburgers in Arkansas happen to be in Russellville, so we pulled off at exit 81, and turned into CJ’s Butcher Boy Burgers.
Now, I’m not kidding about these burgers, y’all. (This post may not be as appetizing to you vegetarians, but it’s still worth reading.) The beef is ground and weighed into 1/3 lb size balls, then hand-flattened into patties and grilled in the best old fashioned way. The hamburger, onions, tomatoes, lettuce and potatoes for french fries are visible right there in the front case. The menu is small: Hamburgers or cheeseburgers, french fries, sodas, and 3 kinds of milk shake–chocolate, strawberry, vanilla. To me, a small menu can only mean one thing; they make the best whatever it is they are advertising.
Anyway, Leigh had never eaten there and we loved our first road repast. We knew that every place we stopped would not be nearly as good, so we ate heartily. Then we headed out, changing drivers in the parking lot, and took off towards Memphis. We had been cheered by the decorations of the old-fashioned hamburger joint with its red booths, juke box, and shiny chrome fixtures. The staff was friendly and efficient even though they were busy, as always. I made Leigh wait while I took a few pictures to document our first cool oasis on a long, dry interstate.
On the other side of Memphis, we stopped for gas and drinks. I reached in my comfortable traveling sweatpants pocket to pay, only to find that my favorite money clip–a gift from two of my best friends–was missing, along with the $90 in cash it clasped. You know that sickening, sinking feeling where the hearts seems to drop down into the belly like you swallowed it accidentally? That’s the feeling I had. More than the ninety bucks (hard enough to come by in this economy), I’d lost one of my most prized possessions, the mother of pearl money clip given to me as a birthday present from Lenny and Jane. Very unhappy moment.
I tried to recall, as we do, every place we had stopped. I stop a lot, so this took a minute. Besides CJ’s, we had stopped at a gas station and a rest area bathroom. Part of me wanted to give up; to just say okay, these things happen. I could tell Leigh agreed, although she said nothing except to express her sorrow at my loss. But that money clip kept calling my name, and there was something about CJ’s, too. If I lost the money there, then somehow, some way, they might still have the clip for me. It was worth a try.
I called information and got CJ’s number. Meanwhile, I was not acting like the sweet traveling companion that Leigh had started out with. I felt sick at heart over this (when you think about the state of the world) small loss, but luckily my companion is a hospice nurse and understands loss, both large and small. I could tell she thought my call would most likely be futile, but she said nothing as I made it.
“CJ’s, Lisa speaking.”
Sure enough, seven days later, we were back at CJ’s and Lisa, the manager, washed her hands from the burger she was mixing, and retrieved my money clip and money. Most of our trip was delightful in every way. Of course, there are always a few bumps in the road. But this incident stands out in my mind as one of the finest memories I brought back with me. Something so unexpected; something as beautiful as the true meaning of Christmas started out to be. Something about hope and faith and like I said, miracles.
In the great scheme of things, this tale may be small to everyone but me. Getting that money clip, and even the cash back, felt like a big deal. It deepened something like faith in me, when it’s so easy to give up on humanity these days. I mean, we rarely hear the good stories, right? That’s one reason I’m writing this one. And so you won’t miss the best hamburger in Arkansas when you whizz by Russellville. Make sure you stop at CJ’s, exit 81. And be sure to say “Hey!” to Lisa for me.