No luck that day either. (Unless you count vanilla ice cream with chocolate and cream cookies smashed into it. A new addition to the menu by Uncle Chris. I sold ten and ate one.)
“I’ll be glad when we have the menu finalized enough to print permanent ones,” Aunt Julie remarked as we wound in and out of tables that evening.
The restaurant was closed for the night and all of us were on cleanup duty. Uncle Chris and Rose were flipping the chairs upside down onto tables, Michael went sliding by with a mop, and Aunt Julie and I were climbing under tables collecting trash and occasionally removing chewing gum.
I gladly gave my aunt the privilege of scraping off all gum so my job wasn’t as interesting or horrifying. I did find a few more menu drawings--a baby’s scribble, an elaborate tic-tac-toe board, and some stretched out stick figures that made me miss Addie again.
That’s when a brilliant idea struck me, and I nearly banged my head as I stood up to tell Aunt Julie. Triumphantly holding up the menu drawings, I said, “People really like drawing on these, right? What if we hosted an art contest this weekend for a new menu cover? Have people draw a map being sure to highlight ‘Wren’s Diner’. Then we can see whose style matches the one in the cash register!”
“Canary, that’s a great idea! Chris, come listen to this,” Aunt Julie exclaimed.
Uncle Chris loved the idea and promised to print extra menus when we returned to the house. Rose suggested giving free ice cream to whoever drew one. Michael offered to make a sign about the contest, and we all went home pretty excited.
New menus, free ice cream, happy customers, and maybe a mystery solved.
I dusted off my poodle skirt as we crossed the street to the house and prayed that we would find the map-man. I felt silly asking for something so insignificant; but if God bothered to name every star overhead, didn’t He care about everything about me? It was a comforting thought.
Rose motioned to me from the ice cream counter, and I eagerly joined her. The contest had only been announced for two hours and already the ice cream counter was swamped. Aunt Julie had assured me that she and Michael could handle the “sit-down” customers well enough so I could help Rose whenever I was needed.
“Did you wash your hands?” Rose asked, before handing me an ice cream scoop.
I nodded. Rule one. After four whole days of helping at the diner, I had them down--especially the last one. Remembering my poodle skirt, I tied an apron over it and set to work.
Everyone wanted ice cream, and Rose and I were completely out of caramel sauce and mints by lunch time. I glanced over at Uncle Chris and noticed happily that most everyone who wanted icecream wanted lunch as well. He winked at me and jerked his thumb towards the ever growing stack of contest entries. I grinned back and hoped that one of them would match the style of the one in the cash register.
Next moment, I nearly fell over as Aunt Julie spun into the kitchen and gave Rose and I a hug from behind.
We laughed at her made up word. My stomach growled. If anyone was “snungry”, I was.
“It doesn’t look like we’ll have a slow hour today; so if either of you wants to stop for a snack, I’ll take over your job for a second.”
I managed to scarf down a chocolate and cream cookie and half a grilled cheese sandwich before I switched with Rose. I was developing quite the blister from the ice cream scoop but it was all for a good cause. My aunt and uncle would have a nice new menu cover, and I would hopefully find the map-man.
I moved quickly in time to the adorable jukebox music with my poodle skirt swaying around me, and before I knew it Rose was back to help me.
Michael came to eat soon after since Aunt Julie had also declared him “snungry”. (She was in the making up words mood.) I served him a banana split minus the peanuts, and he sat down at a window table to eat.
The day wore on counted in ice cream cones and menus. When it was finally over, we cleaned up the tables quickly and spread out the menus to look them over. Michael was eating again since all meals that day had been hurried; but I was too excited about the maps and too distracted by my aching blister to even think about food.
“Aw, this one is so cute!” Rose said, peering through her glasses at a map definitely drawn by a kindergartener. Probably the same artist of the masterful stick figures from yesterday.
I grinned even though it made me think of Addie again. It was impossible not to be a little bit homesick.
Aunt Julie leaned over to look at the map and agreed, “That is adorable! Chris, what do you think of--”
She didn’t have to finish since he already knew what she was talking about. “We could put them up behind the counter,” he offered.
She looked very pleased. Newlyweds.
I sifted through the maps growing more and more disappointed as I realized that none of them matched the first map one I had found. Michael carried his dishes to the kitchen where the “back room staff” would wash them. Uncle Chris, Aunt Julie, and Rose drifted away to make a shopping list and hang up the maps I had already looked through.
It was growing dark outside but the lamps glowed with a warmth that surrounded us and made the diner feel extra cozy. Only one more day of Aunt Julie’s made up words; Uncle Chris’s winks; and the general atmosphere of the jukebox, ice cream, and poodle skirts. Only one more day to figure out the mystery. I prayed our map-man would come the next day.
Day six. The last day. I shared my worried with Aunt Julie, and she reassured me with a hug. She must have told Uncle Chris as well since he gave me a thumbs up and winked as soon as we were stationed for the day.
I was so surprised when Rose volunteered for table duty letting me be Michael’s ice cream partner for the day. It was sweet of her to let me have my favorite job. She must have noticed how much I enjoyed it.
The second day of the contest wasn’t nearly as busy as the first, but we still served out a lot of ice cream. I knew that I was going to dream bananas and root beer for a few days even after our visit was over.
“Michael, do you realize this is our last day at the diner?” I nearly bumped into his elbow as I reached down deep into a bucket of chocolate ice cream.
“Yep,” he said nonchalantly then turned to me and added more quietly, “I hope we find the map-man.”
I grinned at my brother fondly, glad that another of my relatives cared about the mystery.
As the day moved forward, I began to worry even more. I prayed with every clang of Uncle Chris’ cash register and every bubbling laugh of the bell. Michael and I looked up simultaneously each time it rang but neither of us ever saw an old man.
We were celebrating the remaining hour before clean up with hot brownies and ice cream when Rose had a great idea. She picked up a menu that had been left on the bar. “Hey, Canary, Michael, why don’t we draw maps?”
I shrugged. It sounded like fun.
Aunt Julie brought us pencils, and we each chose a fresh menu. I pushed my dishes out of the way and smoothed my poodle skirt. I knew from the beginning that I wanted my map to be different from all the others. “Atwater Creek” and “Sheridan Road” were all right and fine and good; but this needed to be something special--a gift for Uncle Chris and Aunt Julie.
I pushed all my worries about a certain map aside and began to draw a map of the diner itself. The bell on the door was named for its laugh, the jukebox for its happy tunes, and the kitchen was called “Industrious Ovens”. I dubbed the cash register “Newlywed Center” (yes, I did smirk), and the ice cream counter was “Sisters Soda Fountain”. Leaning somewhere in a forgotten corner was “Michael’s Mop”.
My siblings and I were laughing over the names and comparing our maps with each other when the bell announced a customer. All three of us turned slightly on our stools to look.
I tried not to stare. He was an older man with a heavy leather jacket and prickly eyebrows that stuck out far enough above his gentle eyes to keep the rain out of them. Michael nudged me meaningfully, and I nudged him back to remind him to be subtle which was probably even more conspicuous. Oh well, there went our careers as secret agents.
I couldn’t stand the suspense of waiting to see if this was the map-man or not, so I slid off my stool and went to wash my hands for the slight possibility that he wanted ice cream. As I went behind the counter and tied the half apron over my poodle skirt again, I was vaguely aware of Uncle Chris taking his order.
“Are you sure, sir? If you draw a simple map of the area for our new menu design, you can have your ice cream for free. The offer ends tonight.”
The man smiled and shook his head as he mined the change out of his pockets and spread it out on the counter. “That’s all right. I don’t mind paying, and I’ve already drawn a map anyway though I must have lost it somewhere.”
I froze. Michael froze too and Uncle Chris looked at us.
Rose, sitting on the stool closest to him, found the words to ask, “You lost a map?”
“Yes, I drew it on a menu a few days ago or last week was it? Nothing of importance of course, just the scribblings of an old man.”
“Well, I thought it was important.” I could barely believe I was talking as I mixed together a root beer and banana float. I hadn’t even got his order yet, but my hands needed to be busy. We had found him!
His eyes crinkled up at the corners. “You saw it, then?”
“Canary found it, and we’ve been keeping it safe for you in the cash register. She had the idea for this contest hoping it would help us find you,” Aunt Julie said as Uncle Chris opened the cash register and held out the map.
“Oh, did you?” he said, looking at me and winking as if we had some secret.
I grinned. “It’s really well drawn, and the place names are fascinating.”
“Is it an older map of this valley?” Michael ventured.
He sat down on my empty stool and spread the map out in front of him. “No, it’s not--what’s your name?” He looked up at Michael asking for the answer.
“Michael, I had the idea for a story while I was eating lunch here the other day and decided to scribble out a map just because. It’s based on this area, yes; but the names are completely my own invention. I probably won’t even write the story, but I am thankful to Canary for saving it from the trash.”
He winked again like an old friend.
“Why don’t you write the story?” Rose asked, adjusting her glasses. “I’m Rose, by the way.”
“Nice to meet you, Rosie.” He shook hands like the gentleman I knew he was. “I don’t usually write my stories. They just stay in my head as ideas until I forget them. Do you think I should?”
I leaned my elbows on the counter, something I had probably picked up from Aunt Julie. “This map was too good to throw away, and I think it’s too good to sit in a drawer. Will you tell us more about the story that goes with it?”
We spent a long time that evening discussing the map with our new friend and asking him questions about the story that went with it. I’m pretty sure we helped develop it some, and he left the restaurant to go home and begin writing. I hoped he had a messy desk and a vintage typewriter.
Even after he had gone and the restaurant was officially cleaned and closed, we all sat around enjoying the end of day six and our vacation. I presented my map to our aunt and uncle, and they loved it like I had hoped. Michael even tasted my ice cream invention, and he didn’t get sick which was a good sign.
We hung our aprons up in the kitchen and said a quiet goodbye to the restaurant before Uncle Chris locked the doors. Rose and I walked along together behind Uncle Chris and Michael who were laughing over a joke. Aunt Julie came up to walk between us and put her arms around us both.
“I’m gonna miss both of you girls so much,” she said then added mischievously, “especially waking you up.”
She winked at Rose, and I laughed remembering the “rise and dine” each morning.
“I’m gonna miss everything about this vacation,” I said, and Rose nodded in agreement.
“Well, we still have tomorrow, and I had an idea to make that even more special. Your dad and mom called to say they are coming out early to attend church with us. What if we all ate lunch at the restaurant together afterwards? We’d be the only customers there of course, since it’s technically closed.”
Rose said, “Then Addy could see the ice cream counter!”
“And we could have her show her all of the maps and tell her about the mystery!”
“Can we wear our poodle skirts?”
“I bet we could rig up a regular skirt as one for Addy so she could match us.”
Rose’s and my words tumbled over we were so excited.
“I think we could do that.”
That was Aunt Julie talking. Suddenly, I wasn’t so sad to have our vacation end. Dad, Mom, and Addy were coming to spend the last day with us, and there was one more day to enjoy our poodle skirts.
As we crossed the street to our aunt and uncle’s house, those very important stars blinked overhead. God knew every one of their names. He knew my name. He knew all of our names. And He cared about little things like poodle skirts, a story map, and the last day of a wonderful vacation.