Summer 2011

teacrossBertie checked herself in the wall mirror that hung outside the ladies’ restroom door.  She dabbed on some pink lipstick, her favorite color, pinched her cheeks for some extra, natural color, and ran her fingers through her thick curls; she was careful not to disturb the halo headband perched upon her head.  “You are one fine looking woman!” she laughed as she gave her reflection a final nod of approval and straightened her crisp, white apron.  She was still laughing when she reached the front door and flipped the CLOSED sign to OPEN.  It was seven o’clock on a beautiful Monday morning and she couldn’t wait for the day to begin.  She took a long, deep breath, closed her eyes, and whispered the prayer with which she began every day.  “Okay, good morning, God!  Here we go!  I hope this will be a blessed day for you, filled with few disappointments; and, to start your day off on a positive note, I sincerely promise that I will do my best to hold my tongue today and to make you proud.  As always, Lord, use me to do your will.  Amen!”

Bertie opened her eyes and glanced quickly over her shoulder at the enormous black man, who was whistling loudly and extremely out of tune, and smiling back at her from the café’s kitchen.  She shook her head and grinned back at the man.  Who knew anyone could actually whistle out of tune!  “Looks like the first car is here.  Get the fire started, Max!”

Max chuckled and nodded.  “Oh, don’t you worry none, Bertie; this fire stays lit!” He gave her a thumbs up.  “It’s going to be a good day, Bertie, oh, yes it is!”

Max was the owner/operator of the Heavenly Grille Café, a pristine diner with flashing neon lights that welcomed its customers continuously.  The café’s current location was situated along an isolated stretch of Highway 19, close to the Florida and Georgia state lines.  Instead of golden arches that monopolized the interstate, the Heavenly Grille hosted a huge, golden halo that seemed to actually float above its roof.  Visitors to the café never failed to wonder, and ask, how the halo managed to stay afloat, because there were no obvious means of support beams or wires to hold it in place.  Max always laughed and winked, telling everyone that God kept it afloat.  Some people would smile and wink back, others would nod in agreement, and, some would look at him like he had grown two heads before they quickly exited the café.  As much as people wondered about the physics involved with the floating halo, no one seemed to really question or challenge Max’s explanations; nevertheless, that didn’t stop them from continuing to wonder about it and to tell their friends and neighbors about it.  If their curiosity about the halo ever reached a point of overt concern, and that had happened once or twice in the past, then Max would simply pack up and move the café to another small town.  He had tried relocating the café to the larger cities, because residents there tended to be more concerned with catching cabs and making a buck than in wondering how the café’s halo stayed afloat, but he preferred the spiritual intimacy that he found so exhilarating in the smaller cities and towns across America.

Max would routinely relocate the Heavenly Grille every five years, regardless of people’s curiosity, because of one important factor – he didn’t want people to begin to wonder why he and the other café employees never seemed to age.  Of course there was a very logical explanation as to why they didn’t age, but Max wasn’t at liberty to divulge that information.  The fact of the matter was that all of the employees of the café never aged because they were angels.  That’s right – angels!  It was important to Max, not to mention to God, that he reach as many people as possible while operating the Heavenly Grille; and, over the past one hundred years, Max and his employees had managed to reach thousands upon thousands of people – some, just in the nick of time, too.

Bertie was the only café employee who had been with Max for more than the normal five-year assignment, and she was very, very good at her job.  She usually served a dual role as both hostess and waitress, and was the first person people met upon entering the establishment.  She stood 5’2” tall and weighed a healthy 140 pounds.  She currently wore her curly, dark brown hair at chin-length, always tucked behind her ears; but, over the past century, she had sported every hairstyle imaginable, from braids to buns.  Although her hairstyle may have changed many times over the years, it was the light in Bertie’s intense blue eyes that never changed.  Her eyes were both captivating and illuminating on their own, but it was her exuberant smile and boisterous personality that seemed to most capture and engulf the attention of her audience.

Bertie took a last look around before opening the doors to the café’s first customers that Monday morning.  Yes, everything was in place.  The blue- and white-checkered tablecloths were clean and crisp; they looked so pretty against the pale blue walls accentuated with large, cumulous clouds.  The cherub salt and pepper shakers, like Bertie, also served a dual purpose; they also held a slot for the café’s customized napkins, which were engraved with the Heavenly Grille Café logo – a golden halo with the words, “God loves YOU!” embossed on them.
Bertie took personal pride and satisfaction in knowing that the café was ready for the day’s real job.  It was true that while the customers might leave with positive thoughts about the friendly service and the scrumptious meal they had received, and simply go on about their day, they would also leave with a little something extra.  They would leave the café knowing that they had to return for more – for something more than just the good food and pleasant employees.  They might not realize initially what that “something more” was, so it was Bertie’s job to ensure that they would eventually find answers to the many questions for which they inwardly searched.

Bertie adjusted the halo hairband on her head, removed the key from her apron pocket, and unlocked the front door.  A little girl around the age of four walked in, her mother trailing behind her, and smiled up at Bertie.

“Well, good morning, beautiful!” Bertie smiled as she bent down to look into the child’s innocent and bewildered eyes.

The little girl’s smile widened as she continued to beam at Bertie. She tugged at her mother’s shirt, pointed at Bertie’s halo, and whispered, “Look, Mommy!  She’s an angel!”

“Out of the mouths of babes!” Bertie laughed as she patted the child on the shoulder.