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Irons in the Fire: One good deed at a time

Paul Marchant for Progressive Forage Published on 14 November 2016

 By I’ve traveled around the country a fair amount in the last few years. I’m not on the road every week, but I’ve been around enough to develop a certain taste for where I choose to lay my weary head at night when I’m in Denver or Fort Worth, Missoula or Salmon.

I used to think that all I needed was a pillow, a blanket and a shower, so the cheaper the better.

After some literal and figurative hairy experiences in locales like Moscow, Idaho, and Evanston, Wyoming, I revised my thinking and raised my standards – a bit. I now demand a minimum level of cleanliness and a continental breakfast.

As bad as a seedy, bedbug-ridden rat hole of a motel some places may be, they’re no worse than the garbage you may subject yourself to on the other end of the hotel spectrum.

I recently stayed at a high-class joint in downtown Oklahoma City for a conference. Thank goodness, they lowered their normal $200-a-night rate for the lucky attendees of the conference.

I, of course, had to pay extra for Wi-Fi, and I certainly didn’t adequately appreciate my highbrow breakfast at the in-house café. Twenty dollars plus a generous tip later, I decided I could do without breakfast for a couple of days. If I wanted to get ripped off that badly, I’d hire a taxi to drive me to the nearest McBreakfast.

A few weeks later, I was in Billings, Montana, to attend the Northern International Livestock Expo (NILE). I get up through Billings on a regular basis, for some reason or other, so I kind of have a routine figured out.

I usually stay at a Howard Johnson’s at the south end of town. It’s just a step or two above the trashy designation, but it’s affordable and plenty serviceable with, of course, a pretty decent continental breakfast.

By that, I mean it’s more than a Twinkie disguised as a cellophane-wrapped sweet roll and a cup of stale coffee. The apples are only semi-mushy, and patrons can get a real bowl of Raisin Bran or make their own crusty waffles.

On my second morning there, I had to finish some work on the computer (via free Wi-Fi, of course), so I just barely slipped under the wire to beat the 9 a.m. closing of the breakfast kitchen.

My only company at breakfast that morning was a mother and her three kids – a boy I guessed to be about 12 years old and his two younger sisters, in the 5-year-old and 2-year-old ranges.

Based on their attire and demeanor, I knew they were cowboy folk, probably in town for the same reason I was. I didn’t know them, but the mother and I greeted each other upon my arrival with the semi-familiar greeting borne of that unique bond cow people seem to have.

My plan was to just grab a quick bowl of cereal and then head over to the NILE. After I filled my bowl with some bran flakes and two scoops of raisins, I discovered, to my horror, the milk pitcher was empty. No worries. I figured I’d be able to survive with a piece of toast or an English muffin, sans my cereal and milk.

As I was toasting my crumpet – which, by the way, is one of my most admirable culinary skills – I noticed that the boy got up from his seat at the table and went to retrieve the hotel staffer who was taking care of the breakfast area. The hotel breakfast lady then appeared with a jug of milk for me and my dry bowl of Raisin Bran.

I thanked her and looked over at the young man, as he and his mother and sisters were leaving, and gave him a nod and a thank you. He responded with a shy and respectful, “You’re welcome, sir.”

I’ve raised three sons, so I know how far out of his comfort zone a pre-teen boy has to go to speak to any adult, let alone go out of his way to ask a stranger to do something for another stranger. That young cowboy certainly didn’t have to say a word to anyone. He didn’t even need to acknowledge my presence, yet he did. And he did it on his own.

There’s an old custom that I’ve noticed is mostly non-existent anymore except for places like rural Texas and Oklahoma. It’s the custom of bowing your head and giving a prayer of thanks for a meal in a public place. I rarely, if ever, do it. After all, it is a little embarrassing, isn’t it?

But I’ve been inspired in my travels, as I’ve seen families and strangers and feedlot cowboys join hands and offer a short and simple prayer for their blessings and the meal before them.

Texans seem to draw a lot of ire from the rest of the world for their apparent possession of over-inflated confidence. But on that October morning, in a cheap hotel in Montana, I borrowed a page from the Texas book of humility.

As I sat, not quite alone, at my breakfast table, I bowed my head and thanked my Creator – not only for a free motel breakfast but for all of my undeserved blessings and for a ranch family somewhere in Wyoming or Montana whose children are making the world a better place – one good deed at a time.  end mark

Paul Marchant
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