Big boys, especially big boys from the south, eat breakfast. Pat’s favorite place was Waffle House. Eggs, grits, bacon, fried potatoes—staples of a boy and man from rural North Carolina. According to Pat, the best time to visit the local Waffle House was 5 a.m., long after the bar patrons left but a few hours before the day dwellers arrived. By 5 a.m. the cook and wait staff were fully recovered from any 2 a.m. reverie. A sober customer could enjoy breakfast favorites, thank the cook, and engage a waitress in conversation about politics, family, or the price of eggs.
The Waffle House experience was a rite of passage, especially for Yankee transplants, and Pat shared it with our young children. From their time spent at the local Waffle House our now adult children learned about the Southern palate, and life: the value of hard work, patience, resilience.
But enlightenment is rarely attained in one encounter. Instead, it is acquired, if at all, over time, with each opportunity for receiving advice built upon the foundation of previous counsel. Pat and his wife, Millie, shared their wisdom and welcomed us to their extended family. We repaid their kindness in small ways.
When new storm doors were needed for their home, I offered to install them.
Assembly was a struggle. The door just wouldn’t fit the opening. Undeterred, I found a hacksaw and shortened the storm door, enlarged the latch opening, and drilled new mounting holes through the frame. After cursing the manufacturer and its lackluster standards, I was finally able to attach the door.
Success was short-lived. In a chin-rubbing moment, I realized the door didn’t fit because I had inverted it. I had installed the door upside down and backwards; the storm glass panel retaining strips were on the outside versus the inside. In silent embarrassment I apologized to the company and the workers who produced such a fine door. All that was left was fessing up to Pat.
To my surprise, he was ecstatic. He raved about the novelty of the door. He was sure no one in the neighborhood had one like it, and thought that placing the retaining strips on the outside of the storm glass instead of the inside was pure genius: Any burglar could just remove the retaining strips, pull out the storm glass, and enter the home without undue property damage.
Such was Pat’s grace. The $250 storm door didn’t matter. The failed installation didn’t matter. What mattered were dignity and the bond of friendship. My error could have been a big thing, but Pat made it little. The message was simple: Be big in little things. It’s a life lesson I have never forgotten.