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James R. Stout

Hurricane Hayley and The Rice War

            My daughter recently posted a picture on Facebook of my 10-month-old granddaughter covered in that evening’s dinner. She appeared to have shampooed her hair in avocados and I couldn’t quite make out the other smeared food on her face, neck, chest, and stomach. By the smile on her face it appears she enjoyed the dinner very much. Seeing this display reminded me of when my daughter was the same age and a particularly embarrassing meal that we ate after church one Sunday.

            It was in early May of 1986 when we partook of this meal. We generally didn’t eat out much in those days due to the expense and the chaos that accompanied the dinners. My son was two-years-old and my daughter was 9 months old. Let’s just say that it could get messy. Our meals at home were not as bad because we had started to spread an old king-sized sheet under the high chair and the booster seat for my son. Any food that didn’t make it into the mouths of our children, and there was far too much food that didn’t, would end up on the old the sheet. Clean-up was easier that way. Gather the sheet up, take it outside, open it and shake vigorously, and the neighborhood cats loved the scraps. We also had very large bibs that covered my daughter from the neck down to her navel. The washing machine was well fed too.

            But on this particular Sunday we decided to take a chance and go to a brand new and just opened Captain D’s restaurant. We were all dressed in our church clothes. My daughter was wearing a frilly and cuter than it had the right to be pink dress. A matching bow in her hair with lace lined pink socks and white dress shoes. She was about as beautiful a baby as there could be. (My granddaughters have since matched her beauty!) Our son was dressed in a cute little light blue suit. The bow-tie was in my jacket pocket because it “boddered” him. We went into that restaurant with our heads held high and as proud as you can imagine. All the ladies in the restaurant ooh-ed and ahh-ed over my daughter’s dress and my son got his fair share of comments such as, “Who’s that handsome little man?” Yeah, we were proud of our little family. Then Hurricane Hayley hit, and that Captain D’s sustained a wee bit of damage.

            We didn’t bring the sheet with us and wouldn’t have used it if we had. This was in public. There was a standard by which we must keep. Spreading an old sheet on the floor wasn’t part of that standard. We ordered our meals which included fried fish, rolls, and rice. I have asked myself the same question for 33 years. Why order rice when there were French fries to be had? I still have no credible answer to that question. We sat at a booth and I cut up some of my fish into very small pieces for Hayley. She was sitting in a high chair at the end of the booth between me and my wife. What could go wrong? Hayley dug into her meal with wild abandon. She would grab handfuls of rice and stuff as much into her mouth as she could. The rest fell like rain. Everywhere. I tried keeping up with the mess, but she was faster than me. My wife was turning red with embarrassment and my son seemed to be enjoying the show immensely.

            When the hurricane had passed, the place was a wreck. People were staring at the little family that was apparently intent on destroying the new carpet. Gone were the “cute little lady” comments. Stares of disbelief at the mess were more in vogue. It came time to leave and I could see the dirty looks on the faces of the employees who were thinking what a mess we were leaving for them to clean-up. My wife took Hayley into the lady’s room to clean her up while I tried to clean up the mess. I kid you not when I tell you that there appeared to be two bags of rice and fish bits and pieces on the floor. I got my son cleaned-up pretty easy, but it was going to take some tools to clean-up the debris on the floor around and under the table and booth.

            When my wife came back out of the lady’s room, Hayley was happy as could be. She had been having a blast. That’s when I decided to do the right thing. I told my wife to take the kids out to the car and that I would be out in a few minutes. I went to the front of the restaurant and asked to speak to the manager. He came out and I explained to him what had happened. I most likely had was red in the face given my embarrassment. I asked him if I could use their vacuum cleaner to clean-up the mess as well as a wet rag to clean the table and seats. He looked at me like I was a nut. Then he said, “I’ve never had a parent ask to clean-up after their kid has made a big mess.”

            I told him that I just couldn’t leave it for someone else to clean-up. So, he went to a closet and wheeled out a big vacuum cleaner. I took the wet rag and cleaned off the seats first knowing that rice would likely fall on the floor due to the cleaning. Then I thoroughly cleaned the floor around our booth. It only took about 10 minutes and it looked perfect. I rolled the vacuum cleaner over to the counter and the manager came out and put it away. Imagine my surprise when he handed me a coupon for $20. I was dumbfounded. I felt like I owed him money.

            “I just wanted to show how much I appreciate your willingness to clean-up that mess.” He said. Then he added with a smile, “We have a drive thru too!”

            After much discussion with my wife, we decided to not go out to eat again for a while. Drive-thru or take out would be the only restaurant meals we would have for a few months. You might think that I could have gotten mad at my daughter over that episode. If so, then you don’t know me at all. She was just being a typical 9-month-old baby. Despite her bath in rice, she was still a beautiful baby girl in a beautiful pink dress. If anything, I loved her more. Her laughter and her amazing attitude in life then and now has been one of the best gifts from God that I have had. She has turned into a fantastic mother. Her love for her three daughters is like a big neon sign flashing in the distance. When I see her with my granddaughters, I am as proud as I can be.

            Sometimes love is a mess. Keep that in mind and just love the mess right back. You will only be blessed that much more.

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