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September 14, 2021 · OPINION

Stops Along the Way: Lessons from a Texas diner

Stock Photo
By Don Bachmann
Columnist

Not too long ago, I was sitting alone in a diner on the outskirts of San Angelo, Texas. There was a cattle trailer parked right across the road that partially obstructed my view of the pump jacks beyond.

I had just finished a late sausage and pancake breakfast and was starting a casual second cup of coffee. I wanted a few more minutes of quiet time before resuming my family visit with two hyperactive granddaughters.

While in the midst of my self-imposed solitude, I was interrupted by the banter of two loud oil workers who had just entered. They sauntered down the aisle, exchanged quips with a fellow customer and settled down in a booth near me to spend their break time with donuts and sweet tea.

They were relatively young, maybe in their late 20s or early 30s, and definitely had the smell of the oil field about them. Accompanying the smell were dilapidated jeans and sweaty T-shirts that justified the diner’s plastic-coated seats. And, completing the picture was the mandatory headgear – an oil-stained Astros baseball cap and a beat-up white safety helmet with a company logo imprinted on it.

One guy laid back casually with his boot dangling into the aisle, and the other was hunkered-down over his menu. After initial pleasantries with the waitress, they placed their orders and then continued their Texas style repartee. A casual glance, a brief listen to their local accents and a judgmental assessment on my part told me to finish my coffee and head back to my family.

Then, something odd happened.

These two roughnecks stopped their raillery and began to talk about lessons … and not just about any lessons. The guy, who I thought was hunkered-down over his menu, was actually reading Bible passages! And his friend was sitting back with a toothpick in his mouth listening to every word.

Now, I’m not much of an eavesdropper, but I really couldn’t help myself as they occupied the adjacent corner booth. Their conversation wasn’t indicative of any kind of formal education. It was, in fact, rather simplistic and colloquial; but it was also reflective.

They were discussing one of the parables and its implications – the Parable of the Prodigal Son. Oddly enough, I’m quite familiar with this parable as my mother referred to it quite often … right before saying to me, “God may be forgiving; but I’m not!” And, as to the “killing the fatted calf,” I’d be lucky if I got leftovers.

So, having some personal history with the topic at hand, I was curious about what these two young Texans would take away from the reading. Between bites of donuts and gulps of tea, they spoke about forgiveness, unconditional love and rejoicing. They were working out the message of the parable and how it was applicable to them.

Then the guy with the toothpick ventured a comment. He said, “Yah know, that Jesus preacher really had something. He lived the life He preached.” This was followed by a thoughtful pause. Then, “He was better than us … a whole lot better.”

And, his buddy said, “Yep … your right … someone to run the river with.”

Just then, the waitress stopped by to drop off their bill and, after a quick look at the wall clock, they got ready to leave. I was disappointed. I wanted them to complete their conversation – to hear the rest of their thoughts. But, as it was time for them to return to work, they didn’t.

Their conversation had lasted about 20 minutes – just enough time for my coffee to turn cold. Then, they got up, left some money on the table and headed back out the door to their pickup.

As they left, I felt regret in never having said a word to them. I just sat there, but I did begin to turn things over in my mind.

Most times, you never know what the other guy is thinking and, when you gain a slight insight, you come to realize he is just trying to do the best he can to understand his world and learn from the lessons given him. You also realize that his world isn’t really so dissimilar from yours.

And finally, you realize that though his language dress, and manners may be different, in the end, we are all pretty much the same … just trying … the best we can.

I’m glad that I had that second cup of coffee.

The columnist lives near Orlean.
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