Meldie, my wife, gets seemingly “struck starving” for breakfast on most days. Like a wildly dancing child who has cross-legged their potty for too long, Meldie oozes panic when she realizes that she hasn’t ate anything for a while. It’s an amazing thing to behold, really, considering how intelligent, accomplished and petite she is. She raised and home schooled three boys (now healthy young men). She has three grandsons, now, too. She makes my lunch every day, she makes my supper every night and she sends me off to work – with a perfectly brewed mug of coffee – every morning at 3:30 am.
Still (or maybe I should say “therefore”) she violently “comes to” at the same time every mid-morning when the realization that she needs to eat sets upon her.
“Are you hungry babe? You must be starving!”, is the alert she speaks when the panic has hit her.
My role (in these moments) is to stay calm, get us moving and (ultimately) find food.
“Yes Dear, I can eat. Do you have anything in mind?”, I reply.
My cooking abilities are limited to barbecuing beef or pork on the grill and making eggs with toast in the mornings. It’s late December in the American Midwest so the arctic air has closed my outdoor skillet for the season. Meldie has burned out on my morning culinary menu; she gently, and in her own way, informed me of that recently.
” Oh boy, I don’t think I can do eggs n toast today, babe. We can head up to Monroe (Wisconsin) if you’d like. Maybe we can stop along the way if something yummy jumps out at us.”
Three minutes later, we were in our car heading north towards Monroe.
For both Meldie and I, this is our second marriage. Meldie was married to her previous husband for thirty-two years. He wasn’t good to her. They have three sons together and three grandsons through those sons. She married young, grew increasingly tired of the man and left him (Readers Digest version). He moved to Tennessee, a few years later, when he reconnected with an old girlfriend from High School.
My previous life is far more “colorful”. I will cover everything relating to that life, in depth, over the course of the upcoming months. For now, let me just say that Meldie and I come from completely different worlds. However, we fit perfectly together. It appears to us that God, Himself, had paired us. And, that is precisely what we believe. I will cover that in the upcoming months, as well. We’ve been married for slightly over one year now.
On the way up to Monroe, Meldie and I spoke of things both big and small. We enjoy each other’s company yet my work schedule has me away from home for roughly twelve hours per day. We view our time together, any and all of it, as a gift. Before we knew it, we were in Monroe – we conversed through every opportunity to stop for food along the way.
“Babe, let’s stop at Poncho & Lefty’s! You must be absolutely famished by this point!”, Meldie commanded as we passed the “Welcome to Monroe” city limits sign.
She was getting desperate for nourishment. I’ve been warned.
Poncho & Lefty’s Outlaw Grill serves Tex-Mex BBQ food, craft beer and wine in a quaint, yet small, warm atmosphere. We had yet to eat there. Located on the east side of the historic Monroe, Wisconsin downtown square, Poncho & Lefty’s is always packed full of enthusiastically patrons waiting to be served. The restaurant is a large draw for northwestern Illinois and southwestern Wisconsin. Folks travel for hours just to dine here. It was a roll of the dice concerning whether or not we would find seating. Regardless, Meldie had spoken in her own kind of way. She doesn’t ask for much and she rarely complains, about anything, unless she’s hungry.
Upon arrival, we were informed of an hour wait to be seated.
This, absolutely, would not work.
“Sweetie, let’s go next door to the Walnut Kitchen. There is nobody in there and we can eat right away.”, I inserted.
Lips quivering, Meldie swallowed hard and groaned her response to me. I was running out of time; she was letting me know.
“Ugh.”, she grunted.
Neither of us had heard of the Walnut Kitchen. However, en route to Poncho & Lefty’s we passed the deserted business. Every table was empty and the waitress stood blank faced, behind the cash register on her phone, like an emotionally detached ex girlfriend. It didn’t look promising but it did look clean. I was out of options.
I prayed (silently) for a hearty menu, opened the door for my weary wife, and crossed the eatery’s threshold behind her.
We were greeted by a photograph of two young women, standing side by side, smiling while in military camouflaged uniform. My heart began to warm over almost immediately. Meldie’s demeanor changed instantly, as well.
“Hi. We’re starving. What’s the story behind the photograph? I know my husband wants the full details behind it. Don’t you baby?”, Meldie spoke for the both of us.
I nodded in agreement – my tongue too heavy to form words.
“That’s Stephanie, the owner of the Black Walnut room, on the left. She’s a lieutenant in the Naval Reserves. She deployed to Africa, back in March, for what was supposed to be three weeks. She was just informed that they extended her deployment for another year. We’ve been running her Kitchen since she left hoping that she would return shortly. We are closing our doors in five days – we just can not do it anymore. We have a limited menu since all of our stuff has been packed up and moved out. All we have to offer is eggs n toast. Is that ok?”, the waitress explained to us.
Without hesitation, Meldie put her hand on mine and answered bravely for the both of us.
“Perfect! I’ve been craving eggs, with toast, all morning.”
Once our meals came, the waitress brought us some stationary, along with a stamped envelope, and asked us if we would consider writing a thank you letter to Lt. Stephanie. Meldie smiled, greatly, for the first time all morning at this request. She nodded to the waitress in my direction.
“Sir? Would you be interested in writing to our friend overseas?”
Fighting my emotions, I cleared my throat and answered her with as much fortitude that I could muster in the moment.
“I would be honored to write to your friend, ma’am.”
I pushed my plate of eggs n toast to the side, and began writing to Lt. Stephanie – owner of the Black Walnut Kitchen and mother of an eight year old boy currently living with his grandparents.
“Hi Stephanie. I served in the United States Army, on active duty, from 1989 – 1994….”