A "Life with Hope" flashback
The diner opened at 10 a.m. on Sundays, but “Lucky” Dave, the short-order cook, usually had an hour to make sure everything was shipshape before the after-church crowd from Hope Lutheran came in for brunch. There were always a few who didn’t attend church, who came in earlier for coffee. And then there was young Martin Joneson, a teenage usher at Hope who had figured out the exact timing of the Rev. Dr. Donaldson’s sermons. Martin figured that if he crept out of there at the right moment, he could slip away unnoticed and head over to the diner for a soda and a chat with Lucky before the sermon was over and he had to assume his usher’s post.
Martin’s family had been going to Hope for years. Lucky remembered the days, not so long ago, that little Martin would come in wearing his cowboy outfit, clutching his mother’s hand and looking wide-eyed as Lucky procured the Fudgsicles® that were little Martin’s reward for sitting through the service.
Now Martin was six feet of gangly teenage limbs and had a shock of hair that refused to stay combed. Sometimes, Lucky wondered where the time had gone. Other times, he was reminded that Martin was still a kid, sixteen and obsessed with cars, girls, and baseball.
“Aww, shucks, Lucky,” Martin grimaced. “I get that enough from my parents.”
The bells over the door jingled promptly at 10:15, and Lucky popped his head out of the kitchen to see Martin kick the snow off his boots and stride over to the Wurlitzer juke box, dime in hand. The box ground to life, and the jangly stylings of Herman’s Hermits erupted from its speakers.
Because it was December, the diner usually played Christmas music. But Lucky allowed Martin to listen to whatever he wanted in the early hour before the service let out.
“Martin, my man!” Lucky hollered from the back. “You want the usual?”
“Of course!” said Martin, a grin creeping across his face as he fished out another dime. Lucky emerged, wiping his hands on his apron, and he poured a glass of Coca-Cola® with a shot of cherry.
Pressures of the future
Martin’s family wanted him to go to college. College seemed a million years away to Martin, and he wondered sometimes why his family kept on his case about it. “Keep those grades up if you want to be part of the baseball team next year,” his father told him. “You may not see it today, but if you don’t get good grades and go to college, you could end up flipping burgers when you grow up.”
Martin would usually tune out during this lecture, fidgeting until his dad was done and he could go outside or anywhere but there. After all, college was a million years away. Besides, he wasn’t going to end up flipping burgers. His dad was making a big deal out of nothing.
Lucky Dave set the glass in front of Martin and popped in a straw. A crisply dressed man sat down at the other end of the bar, and Lucky went over to take his order, then returned to Martin’s side of the bar, where the grill was located. He opened the fridge, got out a burger patty, and laid it on the sizzling grill, then turned back to Martin while the man’s burger cooked. “How are those grades, Martin? Is school treating you okay?”
“Aww, shucks, Lucky,” Martin grimaced. “I get that enough from my parents. They’re on this college trip; they get all worked up about my grades. For Pete’s sake, I’m only a sophomore. I’m getting my license next month, and I’m more worried about learning to parallel park.”
Lucky adjusted the temperature on the grill. “I remember when I first got my license. It was the year I turned 18, then Pearl Harbor got bombed. I didn’t get to have any fun driving around before I had to go into the service. The only leisure activities I had there involved my trumpet and the army band. The guys in the band were pranksters, for sure.”
“You play trumpet?” asked Martin, fiddling with his straw. He’d known Lucky for years; somehow this fact had escaped their conversations.
“Yeah,” said Lucky as he flipped the burger patty. “I was going to go to college for music, but when we entered the war, I got shipped off to Iwo Jima. I took years of classical lessons; my mother thought I’d play in an orchestra, but I ended up in a swing band. Who wants to play Shostakovich when there’s the option to jitterbug?”
Martin was puzzled. “If you’re a classically-trained trumpeter, why are you working here? You should join an orchestra, or a band!”
Lucky put the finished burger on a plate, topped it with tomato and lettuce, and handed it to the man at the end of the counter. “The truth is, I got out of the service and I had to pay bills. My dad got sick, I needed to help take care of him, and the diner was hiring.”
“So you’ve been here ever since?”
Time to get back
Lucky put his hands on the counter and leaned in to Martin. Lucky’s usually jovial face got serious for a moment. “Martin, I’m 41 years old. In my years at the diner, I’ve been able to help my parents get through some hard times. I helped them keep their house when my father’s health failed; I have a house of my own now. I may not have a very fancy job, but …” Lucky paused for a moment. “I used to play in the orchestra pit for a local theatre group, and one season they put on Shakespeare’s Henry the Eighth – or maybe it was the Sixth, one of the Henrys. The line goes: ‘My crown is in my heart, not on my head; not deck’d with diamonds, and Indian Stones, nor to be seen: my crown is called content; a crown it is that seldom kings enjoy.’“
A faraway look came over Lucky’s eyes. “I didn’t realize at the time how much that sums up life. We define what a crown is on our own. Your success is going to look different from everyone else’s success, but as long as you are content, you are successful.”
The door swung open, and Martin jumped. Lucky winked at Martin. “Hey, kiddo, clock says that sermon’s about over. You’d better get back. Just remember: Don’t let anyone else define success for you.”
Martin threw on his coat and scarf. “Thanks, Lucky. You’re a smart guy, you know that?”
Lucky simply tipped his hat and smiled as Martin walked out into the snow.
Mike Mann is a speaker, trainer, and award-winning storyteller. He is co-founder of the Center for Imagination (www.CenterForImagination.org). © Michael Mann, 2014.