Mr. A. and the tender lesson

Bringing a spiritual perspective to daily life

My brother Rex likes to joke about visiting me from his home in Seattle, not to see me but to visit Mr. A's Chicken, Taco and Ice Cream stand. I know what he means.

Mr. A's reminds us both of our childhood, with its bins of penny candy, including the adding machine paper with dots of candy on it and necklaces of sweet circles you can eat. In addition to candy, the long counter has ice cream on one side of the cash register and hot food on the other. You can sit a few feet away at the counter with bar stool chairs, or you can snag one of the outdoor tables.

But you need to be prepared to see at least one neighbor, because in my little town, Mr. A's is the place to be. Small children come with their parents. Entire sports teams celebrate victories or overcome defeats over a treat at Mr. A's. Teenagers try and earn the highly coveted "I kicked the bucket" T-shirt, won only by eating a bucket of Mr. A's ice cream.

I can honestly say I have not seen Vinny or Carol A. or their daughter and son-in-law ever sit down. I have a mental picture of them at home, still standing to watch TV.

Good food, good people. It recalls a simpler time for my brother and me. But the A's and I have something else we share. Although we go to different churches and are of different religions, we discovered that each of us loves God enough to want to spend our days as good ambassadors for His love to humanity. Vinny's pulpit is next to a deep-fry machine.

Last week I was upset because no matter what I did, I couldn't get my bankbook to reconcile with my bank statement. Small issue? Yes, but it happens so often, it tends to get me down. After putting figures into my computer program, which is supposed to help me reconcile my financial affairs, I was still off in all my calculations.

Finally, I had to stop staring at the bankbook, bank statements, and computer screen. It wasn't helping, and I had to have a lunch break anyway. Reluctantly, I turned the car towards Mr. A's. It seemed a shame to show up for lunch in a mood so out-of-sorts.

I hoped I could grab a taco and run, but Vinny spotted me from across the counter. Carol was busy serving ice cream, since it was a hot summer day.

"What can I do for you?" Vinny called out, greeting me with his usual smile. "I'll take a taco and a bankbook that balances." I tried to smile. But you can't fool Vinny. He made a joke of the fact that at least my bank statement showed I had more money than I thought. "You can do my books anytime," and he winked at me as he handed me my food.

As I munched my taco, a man in a business suit came in and ordered some chicken. I wasn't sure if he was a regular customer, and I was startled to hear him say softly to Vinny that he had just lost $10,000 on a business transaction that morning. Vinny didn't react, as he wrapped up the order, but I overheard him asking if he could take the situation to a higher source. I knew Vinny meant God. The man sighed and said he would welcome assistance from any corner.

Vinny reminded the man of all the "coincidental" business deals that this man had achieved in the past while waiting for his takeout food and answering calls on his cell phone. Vinny laughed and said, "Pretty soon I'll be asking for a commission from you!"

The man took his chicken but not before Vinny shook his hand and said, "Mazeltov," which in Hebrew means best wishes or good luck. Not being Jewish, Vinny wasn't certain he had pronounced the word correctly, but their mutual respect and love of God was the point. The man nodded his approval on the way out.

We often talk about God, right there across the counter. Today, Vinny called out over the din of lunch hour rush, "You know, Wendy," his accent is purebred New York Bronx, "All things work together for good to them that love God" (Rom. 8:28). I admitted I almost didn't come because I wasn't my normal, cheerful self. Vinny grabbed my hand, just as he had taken the hand of the Jewish businessman. "You know you can always come here. You are always welcome."

I know Vinny will scoff when he reads this, because he doesn't think of himself as anything special. Tacos, chicken, ice cream, and love – tender Christlike love. You can't put a price on that kind of takeout.

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