Her name is Saundra. I first met her at the Leavenworth, a throwback diner in Omaha, where she waits tables.
Her attire was that of a classic waitress. She wore a dress-uniform, complete with a white chiffon apron tied in a neat bow around her waist. The only thing missing was a cap-like band on her head.
"How ya'all doin'?" she greeted my family, while handing each of us an over-sized plastic-coated menu. After we ordered and she began serving our meals, Saundra paused at our table, head bowed while our son Joel finished the table grace.
"AMEN!" she exclaimed. "Here's your ketchup, Preacher Man," she said, offering him a full bottle of Heinz.
During the course of our time at the Leavenworth, Saundra's weathered beauty and velvety deep voice spoke phrases, as if sweet sonnets, that drew me in, like root command calling me to a place I wanted to remain.
"Do you have enough to eat, Sweetheart? Do you want more to drink, Baby? Honey, can I get you any dessert? Ready for your check, Sugar?"
After my brief interaction with Saundra during lunch that day, I found myself in the firm hold of her infectious kindness. I wanted to know more about her and asked if she would be willing to share her story with me.
"Honey, I've been trying to figure out how to tell my story for years."
In our follow-up phone conversation, I learned more about Saundra – the person. She is no longer married and lives with her aging parents.
Her ex-husband was alcoholic, and Saundra, now 54, was a frequent target of his rage. "One night," she recounted, "he nearly killed me with a tire iron." She reported the attack to the police; her husband was arrested, sent to jail, where he died.
Saundra breathed a deep sorrowful sigh of relief that day, but her son, who was 10 at the time, took it hard.
"If you just would have let him walk away, I'd still have a father," her son carried on.
"What kind of woman would I have been if I had stayed?" Saundra told me. "He hit me on my ankle, on my knee, on my thigh and on my head. I fell, but he would not let go. He had the devil in his eyes, and I thought, 'My god, he's going to kill me.' I tried to protect myself. I called out the name of Jesus."
This is only a small part of Saundra's back-story. There is much more to her life growing up in America's heartland, where she confronted racial discrimination.
"I've had a lot of unfair things happen to me," Saundra concluded after relaying several personal instances. "But don't get me wrong – I am truly and richly blessed."
"Saundra, before we hang up, I just want to say that you have the gift of exhortation. You lift people up. You make them feel so good!"
"You know," she replied, "I didn't think I had any gifts. I have been searching and praying, asking God to show me what they are. Now, my prayer has been answered."
As we concluded our talk, Saundra said, "I only have one request of you," continuing with graceful charm. "If anyone asks you who I am, please tell them that I am a child of God."
Saundra is the embodiment of all that is determined and hopeful – in this world.
So, the next time you are on Omaha's South Side, you might want to pay a visit to the Leavenworth Diner and ask to be seated Saundra's section.
Whatever you go by – Sweetheart, Baby, Honey, or even Sugar – you will not be disappointed.
A resident of Southeast South Dakota, Paula Damon is a national award-winning columnist. Her columns have won first-place in National Federation of Press Women, South Dakota Press Women and Iowa Press Women Communications Contests. In the 2009 South Dakota Press Women Communications Contest, Paula's columns took three first-place awards. To contact Paula, email email@example.com, follow her blog at www.my-story-your-story.blogspot.com and find her on Facebook.
2009© Paula Damon