December 27,2002

I don’t normally encounter moments of deep profundity in the local Dairy Queen. For that matter, it wasn’t my local DQ. Heck, we don’t even have a DQ in Monticello. But Ranger, Texas has one, and as we sat waiting for the kids’ pancakes and our biscuits and gravy, I was hooked.

Carolyn noticed it first. In an alcove behind the side door was a wall full of hooks. The small recess was framed out, and the stenciled letters above it read “Ranger Boom Town Coffee Club.” Each hook proudly displayed its own unique coffee mug. Most were porcelain, but some were plastic. Their various colors, sizes, and logos gave the wall a patchwork quilt look, and it seemed obvious that such a varied collection could only be the result of dozens of pantries across the proud town of Ranger.

Above each mug were the names, crookedly stenciled in most case, of the distinguished members of the Ranger Coffee Club – Floyd Rice, John Casey, Norman, and Jr. to name a few. I guess it was the names, hooks, and mugs that brought the vision. I’d noticed a larger than normal round table, probably able to seat 12 near the front door when we came in. But now as my eyes swung back to it, I saw a much-repeated scene playing before my eyes.

As the sun rose over the rolling hills of this part of West Texas, a collection of this region’s wise men silently left their homes, guided to the local Dairy Queen, not by a star, but by neon. One by one they came, and as each enters, they are greeted by name by fellow members and the staff of the DQ. They select the mug on the hook bearing their name, and each helps himself to the coffee that’s kept behind the counter. They are customers; they’re the Ranger Boom Town Coffee Club.

As the round table fills, their early a.m. discussion begins. The only thing missing from this round table is their armor and their king. If only the kings, presidents and other leaders of the world could sit in on their morning eruditions… Usually before 9 each morning, they’ve solved or laid to rest the world’s problems and then swung back to topics of real importance – a missing member’s health (or laziness), Ranger High School football, and sometimes grandchildren, though this last topic is broached only around holidays for fear of seeming too sentimental. After all, this is the Ranger Coffee Club, not a beauty salon.

My reveries are interrupted by the arrival of our pancakes and biscuits. We comment on the mug board and how we loved the idea. In reply, she smiles broadly, but then wistfully adds, “It used to be completely full.” It was then that it clicked. The hookless holes that took up the bottom 1/3 of the board were not to make room for new members. They too once bore hooks, mugs, and names. They were memorials, not vacancies. There was no way to fill those holes.
Carolyn and I looked at each other in deep appreciation for the Ranger Coffee Club mug board. It was not about coffee. It was about community – present and past, both hooks and holes alike.

As we prepared to leave, I was glad I looked back. Norman was getting his cup off his hook. The Ranger Boom Town Coffee Club was arriving.

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