John Thomas Tuft
4 min readDec 21, 2023



By John Thomas Tuft

I have a habit, fortunately or not, of looking around when I am in a restaurant and silently absorbing what I see. Figuring that I am surrounded by stories and since I’m a storyteller…well, you do the math.

Untold stories are just an empty pile of words, a clutch of disregarded feelings. Unheard stories are a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal in a forgotten cave. Bearing that in mind, recently I went to Waffle House for a repast of sustenance as only they can do. My favorite Christmas gift sat across from me watching me watch. Two over easy, hash browns loose, bacon, raisin toast and a waffle. With a Coke. Don’t judge me, it’s the fuel of stories the world over. Already I’m noticing what’s going on around me. Sitting alone at the high stool section of the counter is a middle-aged man with a very squared away haircut and mustache. Everything about him says “quiet on the outside, but…” I make him out to be retired military, maybe off into a career in logistics now for a local firm. Quietly confident, alone, precise, polite conversation with the waitress. What is Christmas for him this year?

As I take in the paper snowflakes taped to the light globes and the festive red and white ribbons in the windows, behind me a mother and prepubescent daughter take their seats in a booth. They are such regulars the waitress off handedly asks if they even want to see the laminated menu. Because I can’t help being me, I make a comment to the waitress about her Dallas Cowboy football team attire. Maybe referencing the fact that they had lost badly the day before. I have no Steelers markers on so I’m feeling cocky. Anyone who watched the Steelers in the 1970s knows that the Cowboys and the Raiders are mortal enemies of the Steel City. Just call them “losers.” The waitress can be heard throughout the establishment. “Don’t you be trash talking my Cowboys. I couldn’t watch the game. That’s what happened. I wasn’t there to keep them straight. They’re my boys!” A loud harumph and she’s at my booth. “Refill, hon?”

A woman perhaps in her late thirties with straight blonde hair over her shoulders and bangs slides into the booth beyond ours, facing me. She orders coffee and after it arrives realizes there is only sugar on the table. “Splenda or Sweet N Low?” Dallas Cowboys responds, “Yeah, we can’t keep it out. Folks take more than their share.” After mutual tsk-tsking over that sad state of affairs, the woman reaches into her mouth and I watch as she extracts a dental retainer and places it on her napkin. She catches me watching and gives me a ‘what are you gonna do?’ smile. I smile back and give a small nod, hoping that my favorite Christmas gift doesn’t think that I’m flirting. It’s research. Honest. As I crunch down on the bacon to go with the raisin toast swimming in butter, an older woman passes by. Mid-seventies, her white hair awkwardly chopped around the edges slides in across from retainer woman. Dallas Cowboys is right there. “Dry toast and scrambled, right, Mom?” The familiarity is strangely comforting. Like the cookie table at a Pittsburgh wedding. What is their Christmas to be this year?

Behind the counter at the grill, two young men keep up with the stream of orders. Their Santa hats are sliding down sweating foreheads. Dallas Cowboys yells, “I need my waffles, one peanut butter and one blue.” If you know, you know. She pivots to me. “More Coke, hon?” I may have a drinking problem. In my head I hear the Nicotine Dolls* singing, “Find me a father who will stick around/one that won’t drown in the morning with bourbon and God……and people say ‘cancer’ more than they used to/I guess I’m not used to saying goodbye.” Ask my favorite Christmas gift. I always have songs going in my head. As I’m idling wondering about all those cracks we avoided stepping on in childhood in order to spare our mother a broken back, I notice an elderly couple take seats next to each other at the low counter. Probably late 70s. The woman is about the size of my own mother and it gives me pause.

They sit close without looking at each other. Their coffee arrives. He is busy making sure that the menu has not been radically changed. Tradition, you know. Grumbles in her direction. She sighs and nods. She is very carefully and precisely placing her empty coffee creamer jots into a neat row, each peel top foil opened the same distance and facing front toward her. A neat row of children, or soldiers, or her own mother’s worries and fears. Handling anxiety can be a fulltime all consuming governor. I want to go over and put my hand on her shoulders. Maybe because it is Christmas and I miss my parents. Maybe just to assure her that I did my best not to step on cracks and give her pain. The air is a breath of the smell of coffee and waffles and the sacred. Welcoming. Beckoning. Like the cookie table at a Pittsburgh wedding.

Merry Christmas, Dallas Cowboys.

Words are magic and writer are wizards.

*”30 Somehow.” Nicotine Dolls, 2023



John Thomas Tuft

John is a novelist, retired mental health counselor and minister and sheep farmer, who now lives in Roanoke, VA.