I believe in Waffle House. Not because it offers deliciously sinful breakfast foods 24/7, or because of the bottomless cup of black coffee (not latte or mochaccino, just a plain cup of Joe). Instead, I believe in Waffle House for what it has come to represent in our family.
But I need to explain: In December 2003, we were overwhelmed by the thought of taking our five-month-old daughter, Michelle, and her big brother, Austin, through the gauntlet of airport security in a post-9/11 world. Instead, we rented a van, loaded up enough supplies for a trip around the world, and headed off on a 1,600-mile trip from Texas to Maryland. Most of our friends told us we were crazy, but we went anyway.
After a long first day on the road, we needed to find a place for dinner that was straightforward and simple, and offered food that we could all enjoy. Right next to our hotel in Baton Rouge was a Waffle House. The waitress smiled, the food came quickly, and our family experienced the joy of eggs, bacon, Texas toast, and grits at 9 at night. We could relax and unwind, and prepare for the next day. We ate most of our meals in Waffle House restaurants for the rest of the way. The trip was a wonderful experience.
Fast-forward almost two years later to the day. We were again packing our suitcases for the holiday trip home to the East Coast. This time, we were going to fly, and Michelle had her first plane ticket. Just before Christmas 2005, our daughter, now two-and-a-half, contracted an aggressive virus. She quickly worsened, and passed away so suddenly.
Now, for reasons that no parent should have to experience, our family and friends made the journey to us, providing comfort during the holidays. New Year’s Day 2006 marked a new journey for our family, and we stumbled forward in our grief and loss. Each holiday was experienced from a different perspective, and a thousand times sadder than ever before.
Maybe it was a form of denial, but one of our comfort mechanisms was to leave town during the holidays and go someplace new. We went to Clear Lake, Texas, for the long President’s Day weekend to visit NASA and the San Jacinto battlefield. We went back during Easter to visit the Kemah Boardwalk. We spent Mother’s Day in Fredericksburg, Texas, at a German Band concert, and finally visited Galveston over Thanksgiving weekend.
At every stop, we found new things to do, but we also needed some tie to happier times. Then we saw the familiar yellow and black restaurant with the jukebox in the corner. It seemed like the right place to be, and it was. We ate breakfast for Thanksgiving dinner, and savored every bit of physical and emotional nourishment it provided.
Life is seldom mapped out in advance, and family bonds and shared memories develop in many unexpected ways. You don’t know when they might happen, and you might not realize it when they do. For our family, a breakfast place was somewhere to relax in a familiar surrounding, even though we were hundreds of miles from home and family. Only when we needed a place to rebuild our lives from a shattering experience could we see that it represented more to us than we ever knew before.
I believe in Waffle House. For my family, it is a place where we can talk about new experiences, but also remember how we used to be. A place to link our present to our past. A place where we can smile and our daughter still laughs. A place where they’re always open and the waitress calls you, “Hon.”