Feeding the Multitudes: The Waffle House Index
Mark 6:31-44 (NRSV)
Brooke Dooley, Member-in-Discernment
My mom’s family is from Orange, TX, a small town on the border of Louisiana. Due to its location, it is a prime area for hurricanes and tropical storms. It was common for my Nana to come stay with us whenever a storm arrived. Many remember 2005 as a particularly devastating year for the Gulf. After Hurricane Rita hit in mid-September, my family made the trip to Orange, TX to assess the damage done to my Nana’s house. The streets were lined with soggy carpets and rotted wood. Access to food and water was limited. People were exhausted without the choice to rest. Windows were boarded up with wood and marked with spray paint, some with notes for loved ones, some were warning for looters. Another said, “WE ARE OPEN. NO POWER. HOT COFFEE.” That particular message was outside of a Waffle House with half of its sign ripped off.
“He said to them, ‘Come away to a deserted place… and rest a while,’ (Mark 6:31 NRSV).
The Waffle House was dark inside, dimly lit with upright flashlights and lanterns. A flashlight was provided to those who needed to access the bathroom. A limited menu was set out with a selection of non-perishable items. It wasn’t much, but it managed to fill the bellies of weary travelers.
I have since learned that the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) utilizes a metric for determining the severity of a storm, as well as subsequent relief needs. The metric focuses on the Waffle House chain and whether or not it is able to operate at full capacity, limited capacity (no water/no power), or must shut down entirely.
As a teenager, I found eating in a dark Waffle House surrounded by spooky lanterns to be quite punk rock. I understand now as an adult that those spaces were sacred. Orange, TX was my home in the summer, whether I was spending afternoons exploring the beauty of Shangri La (the local nature preserve), or running around the copious rose bushes which engulfed my Nana’s yard. I learned a valuable lesson from my Nana’s resilience. No matter the storm, she always knew how to rebuild, but it was exhausting work. Not only from the obvious physical exertion which goes into gutting a home (and finding pieces of your mom’s high school building which had made its way inside), but from grief as well. Precious memories are inevitably ruined, lives are lost, financial stress incurs, and the heat… that damp, mildewy heat pervaded the Gulf that summer.
“Come away to a deserted place… and rest a while.”
Finding a brief moment for rest, the opportunity to fill your grumbling belly with anything lying around, sharing with others despite already being limited on supplies, oddly enough, is what is to be expected from a Waffle House during a heavy storm. Perhaps those memories offered me a brief glimpse of that day when thousands of weary travelers took a moment to rest and share with each other, no matter how scarce.