We’d sit in the diner for Sunday suppers, surrounded by grease fire and bellowed orders for fried chicken and giblet gravy. Grandpa held court at the head of our table, like Ezekiel, prophesizing about exile. “I’ve seen it all, boys, and it ain’t pretty, believe me All Mighty, but we got us some hope, I tell you,” crossing his heart, him in his rolled-up dress shirt, starched as stiff as the gospel, as holey as Palm Sunday.
With his dinner fork held aloft as a scepter, he'd preach forgiveness from Colossians 3:13, saying in hushed tones over his grits, “Bear with each other, boys, and forgive one another, even if you’ve got some damned grievance, ya hear?”
Or he’d lash out at sinners (forgetting all about forgiveness, I guess). “You remember your Psalms, like 145:20, where the Lord says He’ll destroy them wicked ones,” and gramps would wipe the waffle syrup off his whiskers.
I’d see travelers in the diner come and go like calendar pages turning, like pilgrims to a shrine. They’d nurse a cup of dime coffee, their heads bowed over the black steam, the steam clouding their dreams deferred, and wear work clothes brown from the land’s dirt, as brown as the grease-fire that hung in the air, brown as a sepia photo in a family’s discarded album.
Their eyes pooled in their coffee cup's reflection, the diner's harsh light against the night's darkness, their moment of rest in a worn booth, plastic seats torn like a map, each crack a destination sought, a path missed. They might have sought Jeremiah’s “good way” and “rest for their souls,” but I never saw any rest in their restlessness, their alcohol-stewed disturbance, eyes red.
The diner’s gone, shuttered soon after grandpa died, when an overpass was constructed so people could get someplace else, other pilgrims seeking a new gospel. And dust settled on the prophesies of my youth.
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