Positive Featured Inspirational Story - September 1 to September 30, 2007
The white, frame house had stood in the aged neighborhood for many years. Steps led to a rambling front porch that wrapped around one side to provide direct entry into the kitchen. There was no sign out front, but 'word of mouth' sent Ma Tyler as many customers as she could handle.
Ma Tyler's Boarding House served lunch from 11:00 a.m. until 1:00 p.m., six days a week and the 'stick to your ribs' menu never changed: Mashed potatoes, pinto beans, sauteed, crumbled ground beef, gravy, and rolls. Lunch was served family style with steaming bowls of each entree placed in the centre of all tables.
Besides two dining tables that each seated eight customers, an assortment of card tables were scattered about the edges of the dining room and spilled over into the parlor.
Ma charged a flat fee for 'all you can eat' and payment was made via the honor system. When finished, customers dropped one dollar into an old wooden bowl kept on the sideboard.
The menu seldom attracted women; Ma cooked hearty meals for men with healthy appetites. Tables were filled with construction workers whose heavy boots announced their arrival on the waxed, oak floors. Truck drivers coming through Lubbock, Texas often went out of their way to stop at Ma's for lunch. And, there was the college crowd of young men. Most of them worked part time jobs to make ends meet while taking classes. Ma's was the only place in town they could dine inexpensively and eat enough that one meal would get them through an entire day.
Ma Tyler was a short, but hefty woman in her 60's with dark hair and she sported eyeglasses with thick lenses. She didn't appear to be an unhappy woman; just very busy and without time to mix and mingle. Only occasionally did Ma stop for a little small talk with the college students. Now and again they could coax a slight smile from her lips by complimenting her on a new dress, new apron, or telling her she looked especially pretty on a given day. However, for the most part, Ma was all business.
My husband, Jerry, ate daily at Ma's with two friends while attending Texas Tech University. Most days he, Bob, and Chuck walked to the old boarding house for their only meal of the day. Although they were regulars, other friends often made the trek too.
One day as the college pals were walking back to campus, Bob announced, 'I took three dollars from Ma's bowl on our way out.'
'Bob, how could you do that to her? She's just a widow lady trying to make a little money,' Chuck scolded. 'You're crazy. If she catches you she'll probably call the cops.'
The others took turns lecturing him and threatened to stop sharing their table with him.
Jerry added, 'Where do you think you're going to eat if you get caught? You better watch yourself!'
Bob seemed embarrassed, after the fact, and his excuse for stealing from Ma was a lame one. He had a date on Saturday night with a girl he wanted to impress. His friends were appalled and chastised him off and on for several weeks.
The group continued to frequent Ma's but Bob's friends kept a close eye on him. They had given him a rough time about stealing from Ma Tyler and it appeared he had learned his lesson. Lunches returned to normal; they discussed class work, how hard up they were, and told jokes.
Time passed, and on a Friday the college pals had their typical lunch together. The boys were in a lively mood, anxious for a break from classes, and looking forward to the weekend.
While patting their full stomachs the group pushed their chairs back from the table. They stood, walked over and dropped their payment into the old bowl, and headed out the front door.
'Bob - Bob!' Ma Tyler shrieked.
Everyone spun around to see what the problem was.
As soon as Ma had Bob's attention she spoke sternly and her eyes bore into him, 'Bob, get out of here and don't ever come back!'
'But, Ma, Ma . . .' Bob stammered. A grown man's face turned from red to purple before all colour drained away completely.
'You heard me - get out!' Ma turned her back on the tall, brawny thief and stomped towards her kitchen.
Bob hung his head in shame, closed the front door behind him, and walked back to campus alone.
The following Wednesday, Jerry and Chuck were in Ma's about to finish lunch when they heard the usual squeak of the front door opening. Hearing a familiar voice, they turned to witness Bob trying to get Ma Tyler's attention.
Ma's expression turned to stone upon seeing Bob and she hesitantly walked towards him. 'Yes?'
'Ma, I'm so sorry. I swear, I'll never steal from you again - I don't know what I was thinking. Please, please, can I come back?'
Tears tumbled down Bob's ashen face. 'I've been starving - and I feel so bad about what I did to you. Please, Ma? Oh, I'm so sorry . . . ' A strapping man wiped at his tears and sniffed his nose while customers watched and listened.
Ma sighed. 'Well, Bob . . . ' She then adjusted her glasses, gathered up her apron and began to fidget with its hemline. Unexpectedly, she threw her hands into the air. 'Well, Bob . . . just come on back!'
All these years later, Ma's unique words of forgiveness have not been forgotten. When the old college buddies get together, Ma always finds her way into their conversation and they often repeat, with affection, her exact words, 'Well, Bob . . . just come on back.'
And, to a young, college-aged fellow - Ma's choice of words likely held more meaning than if she had actually voiced, 'Bob, you're forgiven.'
Dedicated to Ma Tyler and written by Kathleene S. Baker
Kathy resides in Plano, Texas with husband Jerry, and two precious pups, Hank and Samantha. She enjoys writing, needlework, and fishing. As a freelancer, she has contributed to newspapers, anthologies, magazines, online ezines, Chicken Soup for the Soul and writes a weekly column entitled The Heart of Texas.