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  • Scotte Burns

While You're Gettin' Where Yer Goin'

by Scotte Burns

Mother Teresa told us, “While you’re gettin’ where you’re goin’, ya still gotta be where ya are.” Doesn’t sound much like Mother Teresa, you say?

Well, this one may not be the one you know… Yet. Because this incarnation of the sainted presence is the manager of the roadside Denny’s in Hempstead, Texas, and she won’t let you be a stranger for long. 

Indistinguishable from hundreds like it, the Hempstead Denny’s sits behind a gas station surrounded by Interstate access lanes and frontage roads. In its parking lot, pickup trucks bear high school football players hanging their farmer-tanned biceps out the cab windows for proud display. As we rumbled in from the highway, our bikes splashed through puddles and ponds of various sizes left over from thunderstorms that had played cat-and-mouse with us on this Texas road trip all the way from Austin. We were chilled and tired, longing to share some hot coffee and a meal in the embrace of a dry diner booth. Settling in, dripping, for a warmly welcomed roadside brunch, the young lady serving us was pleasant in a typically Texas way and the customary “Where y’all from,” and “Ya’ll want cream and sugar with that?”

As the waitress delivered our order to the kitchen, a force swept past us, close-cropped hair and a slight figure minimizing wind resistance, but certainly not her presence. There was no doubt that Teresa was in command of the place as she bussed tables, rang up tickets, bellowed “Howdy” to all the locals, snatched a baby bottle off the floor, and popped it back into the mouth of its fussy user, then landed in our booth with a whoosh. Plopping her hand over Toni’s and squeezing it like a doting aunt, Teresa proclaimed, “Ugh, it’s been such a day already! Folks have been running in and outta here like crazy, an’ all my kids are tryin’ to keep up. Some storms we’re havin’, ain’t they? Y’all travelin’ by motorcycle? I’d be scared to go all that way on a bike, but it sure looks like fun! Been to Austin, ain’t ya? We see ‘em all come through for the Rally, but that’s OK, we like the business! That’s my daughter-in-law and niece over there. Well, gotta be gettin’ back ‘cause the place don’t run itself. Y’all lemme know if ya need anything, ya hear?” And then she was off, with her nonstop commentary a familiar soundtrack for the Hempstead Denny-zens.

Teresa was obviously someone we had to get to know better. We just had to be mindful not to get in her way, as it doesn’t take a particularly big truck to run over stuff, and Teresa, under a full head of steam, was a formidable vehicle. We discovered that the diner was indeed staffed with many of her kids and younger relatives, which was perfect because they all listened to the boss. She had a wit as quick as her smile and an abounding and genuine care for the hungry souls trundling through her little corner of Texas. As the greatest souls do, we also found she’d had her share of troubles and heartache.  They’d left their scars just below her surface. As she related those travails, her voice and eyes dropped a bit, lining her face with a little worry. Yet, those lines shifted quickly, adding character to others that crinkled when she smiled, which was easy and often. When we mentioned our work and what we were trying to accomplish with Journeys to Love, she misted up a little and gave Toni a big hug, quickly agreeing to take a moment to offer us a few comments on camera. I’ve revisited those words several times since then, and she’s never failed to renew my spirits and faith in humanity. Teresa is a walking hug from all that’s best about humans from Texas, reminding us to revel in simple joys and the rhythms of country wisdom. 

We trekked through much of Louisiana later that day on our way to New Orleans and encountered a great deal we’ll share later about flat tires, the GPS gods, and Cajun teenagers. But the echoes of Mother Teresa and her Texas diner of love kept running through my head as white lines dashed by under the coy sun and cool rains of southern highways. As we sit in yet another diner this evening, enjoying some more delightfully overcooked coffee, it reminds me again of our blessing by Mother Teresa. 

"What was that, ma’am? Oh sure, I’ll have another cup. It just gets better every time."


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