Grace from Strange Cups

winn_collier_writer_fiction_dinerThe dingy bronze bell on the front door jingled, same as when each hungry soul stepped into The Coffee Cup. It was 7 a.m. on Friday, which meant everyone knew the bell rang for Thomas McCann. Most weekdays, you’d find Thomas on his farm. Each Sunday morning, you’d find him behind the pulpit at Mt. Carmel Presbyterian. Every Friday at 7, the Coffee Cup was his parish. McCann walked effortlessly from one stretch of soil to another.

“Morning, Tom.” Eustace was always the first to greet. Eustace was something like the Cup’s mayor, the first to welcome each new dignitary that graced the doors, the first to ask about someone who’d been sick or about the new grand baby, the first to play the peacemaker when Fin and Paul’s political conversations overheated. After Eustace’s “morning,” echoes arrived from round the room.

This was one of Thomas’ cherished moments, partly why he hadn’t missed in seventeen years. Thomas loved the lingering stillness before a sermon, those seconds after he said, “Let’s pray.” He always allowed the quiet to go longer than most preferred. Thomas loved when he placed the bread in the hand of the one receiving the Eucharist. He’d close the communicant’s hand over the bread and hold it for a few seconds, taking care to catch her eye. Thomas loved each night in bed when his wife Ivy read poetry to him before sleep. And Thomas loved this familiar chorus saying hello every Friday.

McCann sat down, and Sharon, matron of the Cup, slid a coffee and two creams in front of him. Then the plate with fried eggs, biscuits and a side of oatmeal and brown sugar.

Like clockwork, Fin began. “Rev, whatcha been doing all week?”

McCann knew the script, played along. “Just tending to my gardens.”

“Must be nice,” Fin said, “getting paid for Sundays with the rest of the time off.”

Thomas smiled and chuckled. “Well, somebody’s got to have the gig. Might as well be me.”

Fin had three or four regular lines he liked to run at McCann. Another ended with the tag about why he never went to a party with Baptists or Presbyterians: Baptists were no fun because they didn’t drink, and Presbyterians were no fun because they didn’t laugh. McCann would smile and say, “Fin, you need to find yourself some new parties.”

Fin was cantankerous about most things, about politicians and weather, about big corporations and little league umpires. He was most cantankerous about religion.

Several years ago, Thomas asked Fin why he bothered going to church when it irritated him so. “You got me wrong, Rev. I let off steam with you because I figure you can handle a little steam.”

Fin drained his black coffee, considering his next words. “I don’t like what lots of folks have done with the church, that’s for damn sure. But where else would I find someone to say peace to me when I enter the doors and someone to bless me before I leave? Who else would serve me that bread and wine? Who else would listen to my bitchin’ and know there’s something good underneath?”

Thomas had no words. He wiped his wet eyes. “Thank you, Fin. Thank you.”