The Cracker Barrel in Prattville is busy. And loud. Inside, there isn’t much in the way of elbow room. There are heaps of people eating dangerous amounts of biscuits.
And I am trying master the wooden Triangle Peg game.
The object of the game, of course, is simple. Leave the fewest pegs remaining on the triangle as possible.
Let’s say, for instance, you finish a game and only one peg is left. This means you are a NASA-level genius. Two pegs; you are moderately clever. Four pegs; your parents are first cousins.
Whenever I play the Triangle game, it’s not pretty.
I love it here. But then, I have a long history with Cracker Barrel. I’ve eaten at Cracker Barrels from Junction City to Gainesville. The food suits me.
The overhead music always has steel guitar in it.
Today, an elderly couple is sitting next to me. The man is skinny. She is frail. They are shoulder to shoulder.
The man is wearing a hospital bracelet. His entire lower leg is in a brace. His face is bruised purple. He is resting his head onto the old woman’s shoulder.
“I love you, Judy,” he says.
She just pats his head and scans the menu.
On the other side of the dining room is a table of paramedics. They wear radios on their shoulders. Their eyes are drooping. It looks like they’ve had a long night.
I eavesdrop on their conversation, but can’t make out much. All I hear is: “I’m ready to go home.”
These men are modern-day saints.
Behind me is a young family with five kids. Four boys are tall and thick. One is not.
One child is small and slight. He has a device in his ear and a device mounted on his head. He stares at his older brother’s plate and says, “Can I have some of YOUR pancakes, J.D.?”
The older boy answers: “You mean, you already finished your pancakes?”
“I was hungry, J.D.”
J.D. relinquishes his pancakes. The little boy’s face glows like an aircraft landing strip.
“Thanks J.D! You’re a SUCH a nice guy!”
J.D. is the poster child of nice guys.
The manager comes to my table. Her name is Kami. She’s tall, friendly. Nothing but smiles. Today, she’s busier than jumper cables at a country funeral.
She’s here because she noticed me, struggling with the Triangle Peg game.
“You want some help with that puzzle?” she says. “I actually know how to beat it.”
She squats onto her heels and walks me through the game toward an imminent victory. Move by move. One peg is left.
“CONGRATULATIONS!” she says, and we high-five. It’s a real high five, not a half-hearted one.
Here is a woman, I’m thinking, who’s got a room bursting at the rafters with folks. There are wrong orders to fix, grumpy customers to pacify, and employees who want to bend her ear.
And she’s helping an overgrown redhead with a wooden toy.
Before she leaves she says, “Isn’t today a good day?”
A good day.
I don’t know. Before I left our hotel this morning, I saw a news program that lasted a full hour—I remember when they only lasted thirty minutes. I guess they need an hour to tell you about all the bad news.
But I think Kami’s right, today isn’t all that bad. In fact, it’s pretty good. You ought to see this old couple beside me. The elderly woman is feeding her husband with a fork.
They are interrupted by a beeping noise. The paramedics receive a radio call. They stand. They leave before they finish coffee. Genuine heroes, I tell you.
I’m not smart enough to conquer the Peg game without help, but I know a few things. I know that people are beautiful. Life is a treat. I know a manager who deserves a big raise.
And above all…
I know that J.D. is a good brother.