Billy - On Mother’s Day

     When he opened his eyes to look at the clock, Billy tried to coax his brain to shut down so he could go back to sleep. Certainly his body needed rest but his mind would not cooperate. All night long scenes from his past flashed through his mind. Like the time when he came home from school crying because his bicycle had been stolen. He had saved his allowance for months to buy the bicycle but it was snatched away in a moment.

      Mom climbed up on a stool and took down the jar where she always put away any money that was left over after the bills were paid. “We’ll take out whatever you need to buy you a new bicycle,” Mom said as she started grouping like bills together.

      Surprised by Mom’s action, Billy stopped crying but he bit his lip. “Isn’t that the money you are saving to buy a new stove?”

      “Yes, but I can use the old one for a while longer.”

      At the time, Billy had mixed emotions. He really wanted the bicycle but he felt sad because Mom could not get her new stove. Soon after he got his new bike, though, he forgot all about Mom’s sacrifice. Now he could never thank his mother for giving him a happy childhood. He could never thank her for baking his favorite chocolate chip cookies in the oven that she had to watch constantly because the thermostat was broken.

      If he had to endure the pain of memory any longer, Billy felt he would go crazy. Work. Work was the only thing that could help him retain his sanity. Taking a double shift today as he requested would make for a long day, but maybe when he got home this time he would be able to sleep.

      Still with his mind in a whirl, Billy hopped out of bed and dragged himself into the bathroom. A look at his face in the mirror said he looked as bad as he felt. Death warmed over, was the way Mom would have described him. If he couldn’t come to life, Clem would send him home for fear he would drive the customers away. After filling the basin with cold water, Billy leaned over the sink. He cupped his hands and spread the cool water over his face and then proceeded to shave. With his eyes more alert and an artificial smile pasted on his face, he mouthed the words, “How can I serve you?” Today he would rely on his training to take over because there was no way he could put his heart into his work.

      In the shower, Billy wished he could clean up his past with soap and water. The warm water felt good on his aching muscles. He wished he could linger longer in the relaxing spray but he knew he had to face the day. His mind turned to his goals – one of which was to save money to go home.

      Savings! What did it matter now? His reason for working, his reason for saving, his reason for living had been taken away. Now there was no way he could ever prove to his family that he had turned his life around. How could he replace his goal when nothing else mattered? He might as well have stayed in jail the rest of his life. 

      Nothing mattered? Stay in jail? Such ideas startled him. That kind of thinking could put him behind bars again. Somehow he had to figure out a way to make life worth living. He needed a purpose to throw himself into. What could give him the incentive to try to find another reason for living? Right now he didn’t have a clue as to how to get his life together, but he had to come up with something. Otherwise ... otherwise, he refused to go there.

      As he put on his white shirt, Billy noticed a dark spot that looked like it might be catsup. Oh well, what difference would it make? A spot on his shirt matched his messed-up life. He did not have the heart to change.

      Although he could eat at the diner, Billy needed strength to make the trip to work. The coffee at the diner was better than the instant coffee he fixed for himself, but at least the caffeine would help him stay alert. As he poured out the same cereal he had had for nearly two weeks, Billy reminded himself to get something different the next time he went to the store.

      While washing his cereal bowl, Billy once again noticed the spot on his shirt. Mom would never have allowed him to leave the house in a dirty shirt. To honor the memory of Mom, he removed his shirt and washed out the spot. When he put the shirt back on, the wet spot felt cool on his skin. By the time he got to work, the shirt would be dry.

       On the way to the bus, Billy noticed a patch of wild flowers growing beside the sidewalk. The beauty of the delicate pink flowers seemed out of place. Not many flowers grew in his area of town. He reached down to pick a flower and placed it in the buttonhole of his shirt. Could he somehow find a way to put beauty into his life?  he wondered.

      The flower reminded Billy of the landscape around his parents’ house. At one time he had dreamed of someday owning a home and having a family. That dream had died when he went to prison to be replaced by his desire to redeem himself in the eyes of his parents. Could he now resurrect the dream of his youth and hope for a family of his own someday? Would he know how to guide a son to prevent him from repeating his own mistakes?

      Nearing the corner where he learned the terrible truth yesterday, Billy checked to see if there was any activity. All was quiet. Pastor Kurt had said he would be back in business for Mother’s Day, but it was probably too early. In any event, he had no reason to return to the scene where his heart was wrenched from his body. Although he hoped there would be many happy reunions today, he did not even want to think about Mother’s Day.

      Pastor Kurt had seemed to genuinely share Billy’s grief. “God loves you, Billy, and so do I,” he had said with tears in his eyes. He had also invited Billy to come back if he needed to talk. Right now it didn’t seem like anything they could talk about would make a difference, but maybe later he would seek help in putting the broken pieces of his life back together.

      Ernie, the friendly bus driver, was on the route this morning. “A good day to you, Billy Boy,” he said in a cheerful tone of voice.  “Good morning, Ernie.” Billy tried to sound friendly. He might as well start to practice for the day’s job. Not many people were on the bus. When the seat behind the driver was empty, Billy often sat there to talk to the driver. Today he moved farther back even though the seat was open and Ernie seemed ready for conversation.

      During the short ride, Billy’s mind was so occupied that he failed to pull the cord at his stop. Ernie called out, “Billy, this is your stop.”

      “Thanks, Man.” Realizing how fortunate he was to have someone looking out for him, he added, “I don’t know what I’d do without you, Ernie.”

      When he arrived at work, Billy was glad to receive a pleasant greeting from Clem. His boss had been good to him and Billy vowed that his work would not suffer because of his personal problems.

       “Are you going to be okay today?” Clem asked.

      Billy nodded even as he looked around for some extra work to keep him busy. The kitchen floor was mopped every day, but it had been a long time since it had been scrubbed by hand with a brush. Determined to make Majestic Diner the cleanest restaurant in town, Billy got down on his knees and went to work with a vengeance. 

     Watching the grime in the grout of the tile slowly disappear fascinated him. With hard work maybe he could remove the grime from his life.  By the time a customer came into the restaurant, Billy felt more like interacting with members of the human race. The couple who sat at the table was not typical Majestic Diner clientele. Because of the diner’s location, most of the customers were from the street. Although the man had obviously been beaten up, he wore an expensive suit that went along with the luxury car parked outside.

      In response to Billy’s friendly greeting as he placed glasses of water on the table, only the woman replied. “We won’t order anything to eat,” she said. “Just strong coffee and tomato juice for my husband. He needs to sober up.”

      While coaxing her husband to drink the coffee and tomato juice, the wife filled Billy in on the details. The successful business man had stayed too long at the bar, got lost trying to find his car, and ended up in the wrong place where he was robbed and beaten. The police contacted his wife to come and rescue him. “I took a neighbor along with me to drive his car back home,” she said.

      After the couple left, Billy handed the generous tip over to Clem to be entered in the books and later included in his paycheck.   As Billy went back to scrubbing the floor, he continued to muse about the story he had just heard. To him, it had an ironic twist that was almost laughable. The story began in an affluent society but it ended up just like everyone else on the street. Apparently it isn’t necessary to be down and out to get your life messed up.  “The floor is clean enough to eat on now,” Billy said to Clem when he finished the job.

      “It looks great, but it’s time for a break. Let’s sit down with a cup of coffee.”

      The suggestion sounded good to Billy. The emotional roller coaster he had been on for the past twenty-four hours was beginning to catch up with him. Somehow he had to find relief soon.

      “We probably won’t be very busy today,” Clem said as they sat looking out the window sipping coffee.          “Majestic Diner isn’t exactly the kind of place anyone would want to take Mom to celebrate Mother’s Day.”

      At the mention of Mother’s Day, Billy’s words began to pour out. He explained what Pastor Kurt was doing and how he had mixed emotions about calling his mother. “When I finally got up nerve enough to call her, I learned that she had passed away. I’ll never be able to make right all the things I did wrong.” Billy was so near tears he had to retreat to the bathroom to compose himself.

      When Billy returned to the table, Clem said, “Learning of your mother’s death was quite a blow. You’re bound to have regrets, but you’re back on track now, Billy. Just honor your mom with the rest of your life, and that should bring you peace.”

      As furrows of thought registered on his brow, Billy picked up his spoon and stirred his coffee even though he drank his coffee black.

     “Thanks for listening and for your kind words,” he said.

      A young man came in. Billy guessed he was still in his teens. 

     When asked what he would like to drink, the boy said, “Just water.” His hand shook as he reached for the menu. After studying the menu, he counted the money in his wallet. The customer was obviously a troubled young man.

      With no one else in the diner, Billy tried to engage the boy in conversation. Pointing to his name tag, he said, “I’m Billy. What’s your name?”

       Without looking up from the menu, the boy said, “Brett.”

       “Where are you from, Brett?”

      As Brett raised his eyes, Billy could see a look of fear that was all too familiar to him. “Uh ... uh ...” Brett stammered. “Uh ... I’m on my way to Florida.” Turning his attention to the menu, he said, “I think I’ll have the grilled pork chop with sweet potatoes and fried apples.”

      “A good choice.” Billy turned the order in to Clem and then returned to Brett’s table. Noting the absence of a car in front of the diner, Billy asked, “How will you get to Florida?”

      “Hitchhiking.” Billy was able to learn that a man traveling down I-75 from Knoxville, Tennessee had stopped at the nearby gas station and then turned off to another route. Although he had often used the last-resort method of transportation himself, Billy began to warn Brett of the dangers of hitchhiking.

      “Sometimes you have to do what you have to do,” Brett said.  For a moment Billy considered Brett’s words, wondering how to respond. Finally, he said, “Do you really have to go to Florida?”

     “Yes,” the boy shot back as his eyes made contact with Billy. He then lowered his eyes and said, “Well, no – not really.” The story paralleled Billy’s past. His parents objected to the company their son was keeping, but Brett would not give them up. When some of his friends moved to Florida, Brett decided to join them.

      The bell rang, indicating that Brett’s meal was ready. After serving the meal, Billy refilled the boy’s water glass and then busied himself in the kitchen.

      A short while later Billy returned to ask Brett, “How is everything?”

      “Great. Everything tastes just like my mother’s cooking.”  “Today is Mother’s Day, you know. Have you called your mother?”

      The boy shook his head. The look of sadness that came over Brett’s face caused Billy to ask, “Do your parents know where you are?”

       “I left a note but I didn’t tell them where I was going.” 

      The words aroused a strong passion in Billy. Anger consumed his emotions. He simply would not allow to continue the course of events already in motion. The story had to take a different turn, but how? He wanted to stand up and fight. With that thought in mind, he grabbed the table, leaned his football linebacker frame over the table and faced Brett with fire in his eyes. Although he wanted to lash out at the boy, no words came. His very presence, though, frightened the boy.

     Startled by his own boldness that could get him fired if a confrontation erupted, Billy backed off. Who was he to act as the poster child for a good son, anyway? Compassion began to replace his rage. What could he do to get the message through to the boy? Although he wasn’t used to praying for anyone but himself, he began to pray for Brett. “God, show me what I can say that would help,” he prayed.

      An idea came to Billy’s mind. “The note,” he said. “Would you want the note to be the last communication you ever have with your parents? Can you imagine what it would be like to never again taste your mother’s cooking?”

      Tears filled the boy’s eyes. “No..... I want to live my own life, my own way. I will get back in touch with my parents later.”

      “You may not have that opportunity.” In a very poignant manner, Billy related his own story to Brett. He finished with the words, “How I miss Mom and Dad. If I had it, I’d give a million dollars just to hear them give me a lecture on right and wrong. Just to be with them would be enough.”

      After Brett paid his bill, he counted out change for the tip. Billy handed it back with the words, “Keep the tip and use it to call your mother.” 

      Brett hesitated before he said, “All right, I will.”

      Billy dug in his pocket and pulled out five quarters and two dimes. “Take this, too. Talk to her as long as  you can.”  “Thanks. Thanks for everything.”  The telephone booth was visible from the diner. With great interest Billy watched Brett’s tears gradually turn to a smile. When he finished, he gave Billy a “high five” wave and pointed North.

      When Billy began to hum a tune in the kitchen, Clem said, “I see your mood is improving.”

      “Yeah, it’s hard to believe isn’t it?” Already he felt happier than he had believed possible this morning. Maybe it was his purpose in life to help others avoid the mistakes he had made. If he could do some good in the world, perhaps he could give God a reason to love him as Pastor Kurt said He did. Pastor Kurt had told Billy that he would be there for him any time he needed help. It would be good to learn more about this God who loved him even when he was unlovable.

      An older couple walked into the restaurant followed by a seemingly frightened woman. She was probably the couple’s daughter, although it was hard to tell her age from her disheveled appearance. In spite of the tough look of the streets, she had obviously been crying. What kind of a Mother’s Day celebration was in store for this family? Billy wondered.

      As he approached their table with a menu in hand, Billy wondered if he would have another opportunity to work on his life’s purpose.