I opened the door and Dot called out, "Hey there, Ladybug!"
That was a nickname she gave me years ago when I would stop in for breakfast every morning. I liked it. On this day, I didn't look anybody in the eye. My grief was a heavy burden. I’m sure it was obvious by my drooping shoulders. I ordered the vegetable soup. I loved my mama’s vegetable soup. She would never make it for me again, so this would have to do. I was eating it as if her hands had stirred this very batch. I was thinking about one of our last conversations before she ended up in the hospital. We were on the phone.
“I’m afraid I’ll forget what your voice sounds like,” I said like a child who didn't want to be left alone by a parent. She laughed that beautiful soft laugh and said, “Don’t worry, you won’t”.
I had just put a big spoon of steak vegetable soup in my mouth when a person leaned in toward me and laughing softly said, “Is that good, honey?”
I thought I was going to choke. I couldn't swallow the food. It was mama’s voice, and she was laughing at me for eating like a hungry child! I just nodded my head yes and took the biggest, hardest gulp ever in my life. When I looked up, I saw an old face with bright eyes and a beautiful smile. She was thin and frail. I need a…..then I saw her name badge, Anita. Of course.
For a long time after that, whenever I ate at that Waffle House, there was Anita telling me which section was hers, almost as if she were expecting me. She would clean my table, then stop to cough. She was a frail woman who worked hard for her money. That was how mama seemed to me at the end. Anita was always very attentive to me, calling me by name. It was easy for her to remember my name, because she had a daughter with the same name. When I told her the tea was sour, she rushed around and fixed a new batch. When she asked me if the food was good, her eyes would smile at me so full of love. She wanted it to be right, to be good. I wanted to ask her how she was doing, but fearing her answer I never did. I just soaked up the life in her eyes and returned her smile. I know my mama used this woman to care for me.
One day I went to the Waffle House and realizing I had not seen Dot in a while, I asked about her. I was shocked when someone told me she had passed away. The words stung! My eyes began to well up with tears. How could they just tell me that without preparing me to hear it?
Some time later, I found myself asking that question again, but this time I was looking for my sweet Anita. There was no sting this time. I excused myself to the restroom for a full, nose-blowing cry. How? Why? Time has passed, and many meals have been served to me, but none with the kind of love my mother had put into her cooking, and none quite like that of the wonderful Waffle House ladies, Dot and Anita.
Believe it or not, recently when I was checking out at the Waffle House, the cashier cheerfully asked, "How was everything, Ladybug?"
"Everything was good," I said with a smile and a slight nod of my head. A nod to acknowledge the sweet way some special people have allowed themselves to be used as a vessel of love.