Early one chilly morning after I dropped the kids off at school, I hungrily parked the 14-year-old Land Cruiser in Ruthie’s Diner’s graveled parking lot, alongside several other muddy vehicles. I was treating myself to a quiet indulgence of two eggs, bacon, toasted sourdough bread, home fries and coffee. My mouth was watering in anticipation. Heavenly aromas greeted me at the Diner’s front door. I looked around for a table, acknowledged the small groups of retirees and tables occupied by young moms. I especially smiled at the servers, knowing they were about to fulfill my gastronomic dreams. Situated alongside the Loyalhanna Creek in Ligonier, PA, not far from the Fort, Ruthie’s Diner had served this bucolic community for generations.
Upon settling down at my table, I realized I missed the chatter of my children. Maybe this quiet moment wasn’t going to be so special after all. I looked out the window at the swollen creek. The Loyalhanna, a tributary of the Conemaugh River, rises from Laurel Ridge and eventually cuts through Chestnut Ridge. Many birders, anglers, kayakers, hunters and outdoor enthusiasts have witnessed this beauty before me.
While waiting for my breakfast to arrive, I inadvertently tuned into a few local conversations. Well-dressed moms were talking about their children and their upcoming school choices. Hunting-clad old-timers were talking about their dogs and their upcoming field trials. It was a warm feeling and a familiar conversation in rural, western PA.
Eventually, my belly was full and I no longer noticed the smell of coffee. I was about to pay the bill and embrace another day of laundry, cleaning, cooking and driving here and there. Suddenly, Ruthie’s front door flew open and Ken excitedly called into oft-time hunting partner, John, asking him when his hunting dog was found. Controlling his emotions, John boomed back, saying that Tex had been missing for over two weeks and it wasn’t likely that he was alive. The wind rattled around the entryway as Ken propped open the front door with his big boot. Ken started a few sentences at once, blubbered incoherently and hand-motioned John to join him outside. Dejectedly, John slapped a few dollars on his paper placemat, gathered his Woolrich jacket and tromped across the wooden floor. Many of Ruthie’s patrons were now staring at the commotion and mostly, the coldness blowing through the entryway. John was dabbing at his eyes with his red handkerchief as he passed through the door jam and disappeared from sight. Without any time to settle back into my own thoughts, a loud whoop and holler came from the parking lot, reinvigorating my attention, as well as most of the other diners. Was there an accident outside? Did I need to call 911? What should I do? In response to the hullabaloo, most of us jumped out of our seats and ran for the door. As I stumbled outside, in unison with the other onlookers, I witnessed John trying to run across the parking lot, despite an elderly gait. I watched him clamor up and into the back of a pickup truck and embrace a dog who was equally giddy and gleeful. There was crying, yipping, laughing, wiggling, and hugging taking place, all at once. Time stood still. Old age turned youthful. John and Tex were reunited.
I never discovered the mystery of Tex’ disappearance. But I did witness Tex’ miraculous reappearance. After weeks of apparent separation and despair, Tex must have somehow journeyed home. He must have known to swing by Ruthie’s Diner. He must have recognized his master’s truck, which was routinely parked there. Tex’ heart surely leapt with joy when he jumped into the back of John’s truck, and curled up in comfort, anticipating John’s reappearance, just like it was any other ordinary day.