Frigid from the cool air escaping off of Highway 56 and the nearby Rocky Mountains, we prance and nearly jump into the restaurant. The log-frames complete the high-rise ceiling and the elk antlers mantled in the center of the large dining room are noted. The selected Friday night Bluegrass band is in the corner tuning their banjoes and assortment of instruments. Mountain climbers mingle by the bar. This is a local favorite that we discovered like true 21st century explorers: YELP. The reviews were many and the reviews were good. “A local gem” and a “must-see” in the Rockies was enough to compel mom and me to hop in the car and head over to start our girls’ weekend in the mountains.
Bundled in layers of scarves, jackets, and long underwear, we were beyond ready to sit near the fire following below freezing temperatures in Denver and up in the high country. Let’s get the party started. Eager to eat, we find our table, gracefully accept the menu, and consider the options.
What’s on tap? Oh! Coffee-chocolate drinks? Check out the honey brie and the buffalo burger options!
Their menu is extensive, highlighting comfort food with a healthy kind of twist. Mom ordered an all-natural Chicken sandwich, I went with a butternut squash with cashews, vegetables, and spinach so called their “vegetable medley”. Yum.
But friends, this story isn’t about so much about the restaurant, menu, or even the food. Certainly, they all have their roles, but this particular story is about Dale.
Mom and I took our seats, speculated about the upcoming musical entertainment, and relished in what appeared to be our good fortune in choosing a fun, local-flair, kind of restaurant. I felt like I was up in the mountains, “away from it all”, with a bit of Western spunk, and I liked that.
Directly to our left, sat an older man on oxygen. I noticed him when I came towards his table because he smiled and tipped his chin as if he was saying ‘hello’ without having to say anything at all. By the time we were seated, he was already in conversation with someone else and so I simply thought we were sitting next to a nice old man.
After a few minutes he glanced over, in his blue flannel shirt, and greeted us.
“Excuse me, but have you ever been to this restaurant before?”
“No, actually, it’s our first time! We heard good things about this place and it looks wonderful…we are glad we came.”
He smiled slowly and took a sip of water before continuing.
“It’s a pretty cool place…look over there towards to bar. That guy, in the red, he’s climbed Mt. Everest recently. And the guy on the other side of the room as climbed Long’s Peak hundreds of times. The people here, they are interesting people.”
“Wow! Do you come here often?”
“Well…you see, my wife of many years died earlier in the year and so now I go out for food. So…you know…”
We did the sympathetic-smile-sort-of-thing (where your lips dip just slightly downward in efforts to demonstrate your regret) and said we were sorry to hear about his loss.
“Well, you ladies enjoy your meal, I don’t want to interrupt your time.”
I couldn’t have this from an 88-year old man. I pushed him.
“Oh please, you have to share about yourself! What’s your story?”
“….oh! I’m 88….”
“Exactly. Which means you have lived a lot of life. That’s a story.”
He went on with his meal and so did we. Mom started to sip his glass but eventually, this old man was chatting with us, yet again. He certainly was a talker, which is why I had pressed him in the first place. As one of those people who love chatting with ANYBODY, I can recognize it when I see it.
When I reached out to him again, he engaged a little more fully, angling his chair towards our table. He told us how much he loved traveling, how he had a big interest in the Himalayas and Nepalese area, and how his wife had actually divorced him at one point for 10 years. Yes, 10 years. He said she was a Christian and he was an atheist, and though it didn’t work for a large chunk of time, somehow their lives led back to each other.
He pushed his eye-glasses to sit gently on his nose and commented on mom’s ravishing good looks. Mostly, he said there was no way she was my mother. Sister, maybe, but mother? No! Mom blushed and laughed. He listened to me rattle on about living in Rwanda and seemed genuinely interested. Genuinely. He listened. He asked questions. People do this less than you would think. He muttered to mom, “you must be proud” and just like mom, I blushed too.
At one point, he asked if I was a Christian and I was surprised and thrilled with my response, “oh! Of course.” Didn’t think twice; how could I?
This man, as I said, was named Dale, and from the indication we got, was a regular not only here at The Rock Inn but just around little Estes in general. A nice man, a caring man, he just seemed to understand how to engage with people. Perhaps 88 years of life will teach that you. I hope I reach that age with a strong sense of that.
I went to the bathroom, clinking across the wooden floors in my brown cowboy boots, feeling particularly at home. I washed, returned, and found my mother in tears.
“Dale paid for dinner,”
Apparently, while I was in the restroom, Dale had settled his bill – and ours. He said goodbye on his way out and that was that. Or was it?
We sat at our table silently for a few minutes, absorbing what had just happened. We agreed; these were the kinds of things you hear about on the Christian Radio Station or on the morning 9News segment. You know, people pay for the coffee for the people behind them, or in the case of Chick-fil-a, they pay for the person’s chicken sandwich. People certainly do nice things for people, but to pay for a complete strangers’ dinner?
His act of kindness spoke volumes about what a 10 or 15 minute conversation can do for our world.
No, I don’t mean the free food. I mean to allow people to share, to speak, to feel a little more included.
Imagine, this man, having lost his wife may just want a friend on a Friday night. Maybe he’s perfectly content, but either way, how much better we could meet someone so kind and genuine at a small mountain restaurant, of all places. We give the opportunity for others to share a meal, a bite to eat, and what’s more powerful than that?
Whether it’s paying attention to what’s around you, looking someone in the eye, saying “hi” with a little more gusto”, or sometimes, yes, even paying for the coffee or meal for someone else, practice random acts of kindness. If that fueled the world, who knows what it would be like.
Dale, if you’re out there. You are awesome. I won’t forget you. Thanks for making my mom feel pretty – and for the great meal.