You cannot easily see what lies beneath the surface. What is possessed inside the heart, and mind, and soul. Just know that we all have them- scars. That they are sometimes painful reminders to those who possess them. Not things to be seen and judged by the viewer, only information to simply acknowledge and tend to in kindness, love, and understanding. Tags.
While making my way along a long line toward efficiency at Cafe Rio, I noticed a worker with a tag. Kelly. Likely a manager. She displayed the leadership skills of a manager anyway. She was somewhat commanding, yet approachable, fast, friendly, skilled in rendering service. An effective communicator.
“Pinto or black beans? Sweet or spicy rice? Lettuce? Cilantro? Pico? Hot or mild salsa? Guac? Sour cream?”
“The works,” I replied smiling.
Think she likely possesses the works. I would like to possess this thing in my life.
In the middle of all of this industry, I notice a similarity in the two of us and comment,
“Hey…..we have twin scars.” So I pull my scarf away from my neck to show her evidence. This thing kind of difficult to make out since it has been almost ten years since the making of it. Long since healed, my scar looks more like a wrinkle or age line than a surgical incision. Hers more prominent, a bit inflamed, irritated. A kind of cross beam of an imbeded cross pendant.
I wonder on her story as if I were on location for the beloved BYU series “Story Trek.” So randomly varried and intriguing in the stories it shares. These uncoverings across hometown America. I feel I am having a very brief uncovering between myself- Scarf girl, and manager- Scar girl.
“Yeah. I had an auto immune disease, and had to have it removed when I was younger.”
“Oh.” I could tell I had thrown off her rhythm, causing her to second guess soup toppings. Not usual for her I think in reading the body language.
“Sorry. I ‘ve thrown you off with my questions.” She was nice about it and said it was okay. Then on to the next customer.
I can tell that Scar girl is a focused, hardworking woman. She is not so unlike Anna in work ethic. Slightly different perhaps in ethnicity. Both dedicated.
Anna from Michoacan, Mexico. Anna, rolling hundreds of tortillas at the head of this order line. I notice small scars on Anna’s hands and arms. Wonder if these are from burns.
Yesterday Anna claimed to have made over three hundred tortillas during her shift. Today, not so many… yet. I bet her arms are tired. Wonder if her arms are always aching from working the rolling pin. Wonder if she makes tortillas at home, or if she just takes some of these home to her familia.
Moments ago, I inched forward to this favorite part of the line. Just past the short, fast food labryinth that I think of as stockyard chutes. Think of Temple Grandin. Look around to check the weather of other customers. Waiting patiently on this cold, slushy winter lunch hour.
Everyone is being relatively kind in their waiting and exchanges. I step up to where the handrail ends and the glass, or plexi-glass begins. Press my hands and face to witness what’s on the other side. Wonder on a wheel.
“How many today?” I ask her. Then I ask her name. She volunteers this and that she has lived here in Tooele twenty-five years. That it is cold here in Utah….much warmer in Mexico.
“Me too…I have lived in Utah about 25 years. I love watching you make the tortillas,” I confess. “The tortillas are my favorite thing here.”
I love watching the dough being rolled out. I love watching the dinner plate sized disks cook to perfection on the hot, buttery turning wheel. I love watching the dough rise in tiny bubbles, turning to larger browner ones. The casual quick flip to finish the uncooked side. Playful toss onto a growing pile. The eventual eating! Yum.
All of this happening over and over and over again. Building a tall, hot, steaming pile of delicious buttery sastisfaction. Tortillas numbering in the hundreds, thousands over time. I think I would like to do this thing in getting my hands in the dough. I would give Anna a break. I might stop the line though in my play.
I cannot contain this wonder.
Anna is back to rolling dough.
“That is the one! That is the one!” I cry like an excited child, pointing and following one particularly beautiful bubbling tortilla. I almost wonder if I have crossed the “tortilla line” in this thing…ha ha.
I catch her ear and eye with this.
“That’s the one I want…..” I say more softly with a smile, waiting a reaction.
Granted, Devon thinks this all very odd. But I am not demanding anything other than acknowledgement of a wonderful thing….a simple pleasure. A thing that reminds me of unleavened bread and another sacred supper given from holy hands.
Anna reaches for an easy dispensed foil square, plucks the floury goodness from the wheeled grill, and hands it to me.
I thank her with words, and smiles, and questioning eyes. In this swelling, this is certainly a Christmas moment.
I take her gift and say “Thank you,” in a kind of disbelief.
She smiles as if to say…. “It’s okay.”
“Do many people get so excited about your tortillas?” I ask.
“Some people,” she answers, smiling. And then she is busily back in the routine again, after taking this brief break. I recognize this as a feel great moment for both of us. This is what it is like to be “present” in giving “presence” I think. Even if it is for only a moment. Even if it is a distraction from the task at hand. It is much more.
In this connection of total strangers I thank her again. Move along the order line occassionally looking back. This feeling and this tortilla really the only things that I wanted, but I begin to feel kind of silly to now be in a line with nothing to purchase. Oh yes. Devon orders the usual smothered burrito. I decide to get the tortilla soup.
Look back to Anna with additional silent thank you smiles. Move on.
A few moments later, it is time to pay.
“Cuanta cuesta?” I ask.
The hispanic cashier smiles.
Still thinking on the girl with the scar, the ease, efficiency, and team work of her employees on the service line. Not to mention the decisive generousity. Noticing even the workers behind the scenes who only possess heads, and upper bodies, torsos working away at grills, chopping limes, sealing bags of tortillas. Most of these Latinos smiling in small talk and occasional singing.
I am being rung up and think I hear Silver Bells, or “Cascabeles” (Jingle Bells) on the Cafe Rio Radio station. I cash-in on a punchcard for a long awaited free sweet pork burrito. Devon will be eating good in a few moments on the swim bus headed home. Home. This feels like home away from home. Kind of half expect to find “Mi casa es su casa” stenciled on the wall of this eating establishment.
Suddenly the kitchen erupts in a chorus of “Free meal!” Scar girl initiates this and many workers join in the echoing of it.
I am instantly in smiles, caught up in another childlike moment of recognition.
“You sing for me! Hooray! Gracias para su ayudar.”
“And this from a girl without a thyroid or much of a voice,” Scar girl says.
We laugh. Nothing lost in the translation.
Even the girl at the register hunting water cups sings. I love singing and think I have been doubly, triply treated in lunching this day. Definitely treated yesterday morning in our eagle soaring elementary Sing Along of Christmas. Ahhhh. Magical.
I make final happy eye contact with Scar girl and double take to Anna behind the glass at the head of the order line. I am tipping…..ha ha…..tipping the scale to more than 51% positivity Rhonda Byrne! Smiles and laughter…. a must.
Glad I chose this place again today. Yes! for what was given in delicious food, but even more for what was given freely in heart and spirit renderings under tired working arms and hands.
These strangers feel strangely a part of our little swim team family as we fill their dinning room. They feel part of our small school family as I think on what I left behind yesterday. In a larger measure, these strangers feel part of a larger body of Christ which I always want to feel a part of.
I think of scars. Fill water cups thinking of buckets. Take a sip of soup and try not to scald…ha ha…scar my tongue. Want to keep my words delicious as this salty broth.
We leave. Carefully slipping, sliding, sloshing down a small slick grade. Middle of the streeting. Dodged by Dodges, Chevies, Infinities along our Journey. Holiday shoppers of all shapes and sizes in fast cars. Heavy in their braking. Wish they would just slow down and see.
A woman on a busy traffic corner stands in deep snow. Holds a crude cardboard sign. Homeless. Struggling Single Mother. I walk past, but I cannot ignore this person. Almost in shame for this, I do a turn about. I think of other single mothers that I know and love. One of which has two swimmers on our team. I think of the mother of Christ.
She is thinking….hoping that I will hand her money. Instead, I offer a question in my usual questioning form.
“Would you like my soup?”
She stammers a simple, “Yes.” Takes it.
“Thank you.” she says in juggling the sign and how to eat this thing.
“You are very welcome. Merry Christmas!,” I say to the woman.
Devon and I walk the rest of the way to the bus in silence.
I think I have everything I need. I know I do. I have a hot tortilla in my pocket, a big box of swim team oranges on the bus. Children. I have a sweet feeling that will likely last all night.
From the front seat of the bus I can see swimmers making their way back from lunching. I can see a tiny jet stream of steam rising from tortilla soup in the distance. I can see the woman eating the hot meal. I am warm inside.
I cannot see her scars. They are all covered up by a winter coat, hat, scarf, gloves, and Christmas! It is not for me to question, or to judge her authenticity.
Scars. We all have them. It is up to us in how we see them and how we treat them.
Later that night in pulling into our driveway and unloading, Devon says, “Mom, I’m proud of you.”
My daughter is a salve to my soul and to my own hidden scars.