Congress Could Take A Lesson From These Oklahoma Restaurants

Editor’s note:  The article below is from The Washington Post and is about how customers in some restaurants in northeastern Oklahoma are donating meals to other diners.  This is as American as one can get.  This spirit was what built this country.  Neighbors coming to the aid of neighbors to build a barn, gather a crop or milk their cow.

Unfortunately, this is in stark contrast to what we see daily in Washington where cooperation is a four-letter word.  Just this week Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell said his only mission is to block anything President Biden attempts to do.  Forget the needs of the people, don’t develop alternate policy, don’t go to the table to compromise.  Just be against.

This is NOT leadership.  Instead it is a sad display of just how out of touch with reality Washington now is.  McConnell should visit some eateries in Oklahoma to re-discover what this country holds dear.

“In a growing number of restaurants in Oklahoma, the walls are decorated with hanging receipts.

Anyone can walk in, pull down a receipt and order a meal free of charge. The receipts are put there by customers who prepay for food and tack them to the wall, leaving them on offer for anyone who is hungry.

Since early February, restaurants in the northeastern corner of Oklahoma — in towns like Miami, Grove and Vinita — encourage people who are short on cash to pick up a prepaid meal receipt and enjoy everything from three-egg omelets to chicken-fried steak, no tips expected, no questions asked.

“Maybe if we can show people what it’s like to take care of your neighbor during a time of need, it will spread throughout the United States,” said Bless Parker, 51, the volunteer mayor of Miami (pronounced my-am-uh). “We want to bring back the old hometown values that I saw when I was growing up here as a kid.”

During the historic Arctic blast earlier this year, Parker helped homeless people get into church shelters, and around that time he and others decided they needed to do something to help people who were having a tough time during the coronavirus pandemic in Miami, a former mining town with a population of about 13,000.  About 23 percent of Miami’s population lives in poverty, according to the 2019 Census. The median annual household income is about $36,000.

Sandye Williams, an assistant manager at the Miami Walmart, said she remembered a story she had seen in 2019 about a restaurant in Arkansas where customers had bought meals in advance for those in need and posted the receipts on the wall for anyone to pick up.

On Feb. 3, Williams tagged Dawg House restaurant owner Jennifer White in a post about the story, saying, “Look at this. I would pay for a meal once a week.”

“I loved the idea and thought I’d give it a try,” said White, 28. “I want people in my community to be fed whether they have money for a meal or not.”

When White posted a sign near the entrance inviting her customers to buy $10 meal receipts and post them on the cafe’s giving wall, word spread quickly in Miami, she said.

The mayor, who regularly pops in for lunch at the Dawg House, was the first to buy an extra meal and post the receipt on the wall, she said. “We don’t like to ask questions in Miami and we don’t judge,” Parker said. “Sometimes, people just need a little help. They need somebody to believe in them.”

Hours after Parker’s receipt went up the wall, another local restaurant, Zack’s Cafe, decided to get on board with the idea. And a few days later, Montana Mike’s Steakhouse joined in.

“It seems like we’ve had a rise in homeless people in our area lately, and I thought it would be great to help them to get a meal,” said Lacey Perry, 28, who runs Zack’s Cafe with her husband, Zack Perry.

“Giving customers an opportunity to do something good for someone else is a great idea,” she said.
Her regular customers immediately agreed, and a local church pledged to put the first $100 worth of receipts on the wall.
The giving wall concept soon spread to surrounding towns, including Vinita, which has a population of 5,423, where Beth Hilburn runs the Hi-Way Cafe on historic Route 66.

Hilburn, 52, said she invited her customers to buy something extra from the menu such as a slice of pie or a cheeseburger, then post their contribution beneath a sign she printed:  “If you are hungry or know someone who is … these tickets have been paid for in advance by previous customers. Please grab a ticket and eat!”

About 100 people have taken her up on the offer to exchange a receipt for a free meal in the past two months, she said.
“It’s a discreet way for somebody to get a good meal without feeling embarrassed, Hilburn said. “Our waitresses know not to make a fuss or draw attention to it.”

Anyone who takes a receipt off the wall is a customer, she said.

“I’ve had people tell me this is the first time in a long time that they’ve been able to have a meal in a restaurant,” Hilburn said. “So there is still a lot of hurt and hard times out there.”  The restaurants’ Facebook pages have been flooded with comments about the giving walls from local customers and out-of-towners alike.

“One of the main reasons I love our small town!” a Miami resident commented on the Zack’s Cafe page.

Customers who take receipts off the giving walls are often too shy to say much about the free meals, but no words are necessary, Lacey Perry said.  “If they’re even a tiny bit embarrassed, we do our best to make them comfortable,” she said. “You can see in their eyes that they’re thankful.”

Some of the free meal recipients have returned to put a meal ticket on the wall to help somebody else once they’re able to, Perry said. She estimates that more than 300 free meals have been ordered at Zack’s.

“Everyone in town has been willing to give what they can,” she said.

At Montana Mike’s, general manager Jennifer Highton said she recently took a phone call from a man in Chicago who wanted to purchase several meals and add them to the wall. “He’s never been here and doesn’t know anything about us, but he loved the idea and wanted to be a part of it,” said Highton, 31. “With help from people like him, maybe … we can keep this thing going.”

In A Room Full Of Miracles

Each year the Council for Leaders in Alabama Schools (CLAS) hosts a luncheon for what they call “Schools of Distinction” from throughout the state.  CLAS has been around for 30+ years serving as an umbrella for a number of groups such as elementary, middle school and high school principals and providing an array of professional development opportunities.  They have 4,000 members.

They divide the state according to the eight state school board districts and go through an extensive evaluation process to select usually four final schools per district.  These schools are then recognized at a luncheon.  They have been kind enough to invite me to attend these events.  (There was not one last year due to the pandemic.)

So May 3 I was right there amongst them–no teeth and all.  (I tried to keep my mouth shut as much as possible, which ain’t easy for me. Luckily the meal included mashed potatoes and a slice of pie that did not need chewing.)

Everyone at my table was from Tuscaloosa.  (I never once mentioned Auburn or War Eagle.)

Each of the 31 schools being recognized were given a few minutes to highlight why they were recognized.  For a lay person like me, it was a great reminder of the amazing work that goes on in our public schools.  Of the dedicated teachers and special education personnel and supportive principals who give so very much each day for the young folks in their classrooms.

These people are passionate about what they do.  And this passion carries over into their classrooms and schools.  Because of this, miracles happen.  A light goes on in the mind of a second grader and suddenly a math problem becomes much clearer or a phrase in a book takes on new meaning.

I am in awe of teachers.  Of their patience, devotion, dedication and love. There are easier ways to make a living.  But thank God, this is the career they have chosen.

Here are the schools recognized this year:

Chickasaw Elementary, Clark-Shaw Magnet Middle, E. R. Dickson Elementary, Nora Mae Hutchens Elementary, Jerry Lee Faine Elementary, Lakewood Elementary, Lakewood Primary, Webb Elementary, Berry Middle, Chelsea High, Millbrook Middle, Sycamore Elementary, Hillcrest High, Northridge Middle, Southview Elementary, University Place Elementary, Gilliard Elementary, Prattville Primary, R. B. Hudson STEAM Academy, Williamson High and Middle Grades Preparatory Academy, KDS DAR Elementary, Ohatchee High, Sparkman Elementary, Haleyville Center of Technology, Harland Elementary, Kilby Laboratory , Tuscaloosa Magnet Schools-Elementary, Collins Intermediate, James Clements High, Mae Jemison Hill and Mill Creek Elementary.

Congratulations to each of these and thank you for the miracles you create.

Osama Bin Laden

May 2 marked 10 years ago that a group of Navy Seals dropped into Bin Laden’s compound in Pakistan and rid the world of this terrorist.  The History Channel has just devoted several, several hours to some excellent documentaries looking back at 9/11, what was happening on board Air Force One immediately afterwards and the planning and execution of the raid to get Bin Laden.

It was excellent television in a time when I can’t say that very often and certainly caused viewers to reflect on these times–as well as the times we are now experiencing.

We have all seen the unbelievable destruction of 9/11.  Still it is hard to grasp the panic and chaos that gripped not only New York City, but the entire country.  We were dumbfounded and waiting for the next shoe to fall so to speak.  Thankfully, that did not happen.

President George W. Bush was reading to a Florida classroom of elementary students when he got the word.  As quickly as possible, he was aboard Air Force One and on a course to who knows where.  Bush wanted to immediately return to the White House, but staff and security finally dissuaded him that this was not a good idea.  The plane he was on is amazing in its capabilities. But many aboard it that day felt they were little more than a sitting duck to someone wanting to down it.

Finally they climbed to 45,000 so that they were high above most other air traffic.  And after more than an hour, they were joined by two jet fighters who, ironically enough, were from Bush’s former National Guard unit in Houston.  Their first stop was in Louisiana to take on fuel.  Then they headed to a base in Omaha.

And while flying at 45,000 feet was great for safety, for the most part it took them out of range for most communications which were critical.  From Omaha, the plane headed for Washington so Bush could speak to the American people and assure them as best possible that every measure was being taken to insure the safety of everyone.

The segment on the raid was fascinating.  Hundreds, if not thousands, of people devoted untold hours following leads that might lead them to Bin Laden.  They were looking for a needle in the haystack and no lead was too small to be ignored..

At long last, due to carefully planted informants, they settled on a three-story, heavily fortified structure in a small village about 160 miles inside of Pakistan.  Then the real work.  A carefully screened group of Seals with extensive experience were selected to begin training for this mission.  They studied models of the compound and most importantly, went through numerous training exercises on a too-scale mockup of the compound.

All of this was under the watchful eye of Admiral William McRaven, who had the wholehearted support of President Obama and everyone with knowledge of the mission.  And there were not many as this endeavor was highly secret.

Two Blackhawk helicopters departed on a moonless night to fly the 160 miles to the target and drop the Seals.  Unfortunately, one of the Blackhawks crashed into a compound courtyard.  No one was injured and the helicopter was blown up before the team left the site.. It was later theorized that because the night air was warmer than expected, this affected the Blackhawk’s ability to hover.

The Seals moved quickly.  Every thing had been planned to the minute.  Resistance was minimal.  They found Bin Laden on the third floor and he was quickly dispatched. At one point, one of the Seals thought he saw a son of Bin Laden stick his head around a corner and quickly retreat.  The Seal called the man’s name and the head came back into view  He was shot.

It was critical that Bin Laden’s body be brought back so that positive identification could be made. He was put in a body bag and loaded on a helicopter.  As soon as everyone was back at the base, McRaven came to see the body and Bin Laden was removed from the body bag.  The admiral thought they had their man.  Bin Laden was 6 feet 4 inches tall.  McRaven looked around the room, spied the tallest guy there and asked him how tall he was.  6 feet, 2 inches wax his response.  So McRaven asked him to lie down next to the body.  After a pause to make sure he heard correctly, the soldier complied and the admiral noted that the body was about 2 inches taller than the soldier.

As we know now, everything was bein closely monitored by a small group back in the White House.  McRaven immediately called the president and reported that they had the right guy and told him about using the solider as a measuring tape. As McRaven tells it, there was then a long pause before President Obama said, “We can spend $60 million on a helicopter but we don’t have $10 for a tape measure?”

DNA later made a positive identification.

One of the climatic scenes in the documentary was when the observers exited the White House only to encounter thousands gathered chanting USA, USA.

Without doubt, this was one of the finest moments in the history of this country.  However, it is impossible not to reflect on our country just 10 years later.  Whereas on a May night in 2011 we were united as one, that is definitely not the case now.  We are more divided that perhaps ever before.  And the last time a crowd gathered near the White House, they were encouraged to march down the street where some stormed our own Capitol.

Congress is at a total stalemate.  The only thing that matters is winning–not for the people–but for themselves.

A few weeks ago the head of the FBI told us that domestic terrorists are now considered as much a threat to us as those from overseas.

To say things are a mess is an understatement.  Unfortunately it will remain that way until the citizens of this great country refuse to be duped by the loudest, most unreasonable voices in the land and elect people to public office who are honestly public servants, not power hungry demagogues and hypocrites.

And that is what we will do if we truly claim to be patriots.



Another Gem From J. L. Strickland

Editor’s note:  From time to time I open my inbox and find some more of J. L. Strickland’s musings.  He is a retired textile mill worker from Alabama’s Valley region (Chambers County and surrounding areas) who certainly has a way with words.  Enjoy his most recent:

“I haven’t been doing much of anything since I got really sick off a new drug they started me on for the Parkinson’s.   The damn stuff almost killed me.  For two days I thought I would die, and by the third day I was hoping I would.

But my son’s wife is a nurse/practitioner.  She quickly realized what was happening to me and told me to stop taking the new drug at once.   I did and have gradually, gradually returned to nearly normal. Or what passes for normal these days.

(These days, my normal is barely being able to walk, but still possessing the ability to talk the horns off a billy goat.  If anyone has a billy goat that needs dehorning, send it my way.)

Related to the barely walking situation, a while back I came across some walking sticks online that were made in Ukraine.   I liked the way they looked and ordered two of them.   It took about a month for them to arrive from Russia, but they finally got to Huguley.   

(The Russian girl, Tatiana, who handles the Ukrainians’ American sales, and I corresponded several times.  In each of her emails, she quoted verses from “Sweet Home Alabama” in closing.   I’ve noticed that, while most furriners hate Americans, they sho’ ‘nuff do like our music and our money.)

Anyway, let me get to the point of this story:

When I went to the hospital for some tests yesterday,  I was hobbling about with one of my new Ukrainian walking sticks.   I couldn’t believe that three different women – two hospital employees and one stranger I met in the hall– complimented me on how nice my walking stick looked.  Two of them actually picked it up and examined it more closely.

After I got home, and thinking about the attention brought on by the walking stick,  it occurred to me that I had reached a milestone of sorts. A Plateau of Pitifulness and Inevitability.

You know a fella has passed the point of no return when the only attention and compliments he gets are for his handsome  walking stick.

Wouldn’t you agree?

The final words spoken by my late wife on her death bed came to mind.  After being comatose for two days, Yvonne suddenly opened her eyes and, to no one in particular, exclaimed, “Golden Years, my ass!”

And my darling brown-eyed girl went to her reward with those insightful words hanging in the air.

Can’t say I don’t agree with her assessment of the situation.  I have no doubt she had given it a lot of thought. Unlike me, she was never one to jump to a conclusion.”


The Nightmare Of Dentures

Daddy passed away at age 86 with one filling in his teeth.  Mother was not so lucky and had teeth issues her entire life.

Unfortunately, I apparently got my teeth genes from mama, not daddy.

So over the years I’ve had my share of fillings, crowns, bridges, and teeth being pulled.  And a couple of months ago I lost one of my front upper teeth and a big hole in my smile.  Which honestly didn’t concern me all that much, but it meant I was not interested in smiling.  And no doubt, for someone having lunch with me, that was not a pretty sight.

So I begin seeing dentists, of course including the one I’ve used for years here in Montgomery.  In all, got opinions from three.  All said the same thing.  What teeth I still had were all not long for this world and the best solution was to pull them all and get dentures.

The thought of having false teeth was not a good one.  All I could think of was talking to someone and listening to their teeth rattle, snap and pop as we conversed.  Surely that would never be me.  Now I wonder.

But long story made a bit shorter, on April 12 I spent four and one half hours in the dentist’s chair while he pulled the 16 teeth left in my head.  I could have had open heart surgery in less time.

The dentist had some temporary dentures ready and waiting.  He said they normally pop those in as soon as the pulling was complete since this would cut down on bleeding and begin the healing.  That might work for some, but not for me as my mouth was one bloody mess.  It looked like part of a piece of cube steak that had just been beaten by one of those meat tenderizer gadgets.  Touching my gums with any thing other than gauze was out of the question.

So I left the dental office with a mouthful of gauze and headed straight for the house.  The bleeding was not slowing down and I stayed up the entire night changing gauze.  The internet suggested using tea bags for black tea instead of gauze.  My gums apparently don’t read the internet as this didn’t seem to work.  Heck, I was afraid that if I could go to sleep I would drown in my own blood.

Bright and early the next morning I was back at the dentist.  Fortunately, by then the bleeding had pretty much abated.  The dentist said he had never known anyone to bleed so profusely.  Yes, it is great to be an exception to the rule.

Two weeks later and I’ve got a long way to go.  My gums remain very sore. The dentist wants me to wear the temps as much as possible to get used to them.  I can handle the ones for the bottom for a few minutes, but not the top set.

I would kill for a sausage and biscuit.  Two weeks of a liquid diet leave a lot to be desired.  If I never see another bowl of soup, I won’t fuss.  I suck down liquid drinks like Boost and eat ice cream and fruit popsicles. Have been to Waffle House a couple of times to get scrambled eggs and a bowl of grits.  Even tried some baby food.  It is awful.  No wonder babies spit that stuff out.

The plan is that after a few months of wearing the temps, I will get permanent dentures.  I have eight screws inserted in my gums, just below the surface.  (Try sitting in the dentist’s chair while he uses a wrench to work on your mouth.  All I could think about was adjusting a cultivator back on the farm).  Small pins will be inserted in the screws and these are supposed to anchor the permanent dentures–though you will still take them out each night.

I really hate to sound so negative.  But it ain’t easy to be upbeat when you are hungry and your mouth hurts like hell.

First it was hearing aides.  Then reading glasses.  Now false teeth.  What stops working next?  I can scarcely wait to find out.