an angel in the cracker barrel



In the spirit of pleasing people, we invite everyone regardless of race, color, disability or national origin to enjoy our restaurant and old country store. Since 1969, we have tried our best to provide food and service in ways that uphold our traditions of genuine quality. If you feel we have not delivered on this promise, please let us know.

~ the words in the entryway of the Cracker Barrel Old Country Store

“Let’s Go to Cracker Barrel!” Katie yelled as we drove into the parking lot. “Let’s go to Cracker Barrel!” yelled the little echo in the seat next to hers. Luau and I shrugged. We couldn’t remember the last time that we’d gone to a Cracker Barrel restaurant. Six, seven years ago maybe? Long enough ago that neither of us really remembered a dang thing about the place, but it seemed like a reasonable enough stop for lunch on a Saturday afternoon. Can’t go round waking babies on an empty stomach, after all. We found a parking spot and made our way through the adorably kitschy gift shop and asked for a table for four.

As the host led us into the restaurant, the noise level rose significantly. We followed him to a table smack dab in the middle of the dining room. We were surrounded by the dull roar of melded people sounds – clanging plates and tinkling silverware, children crying, a glass breaking in the distance. Laughter. A toy dropped onto the hardwood floor. We were assaulted by assorted shards of conversation –

Hello, welcome to cracker barrel. Excuse me, may I please get another Diet Coke? Johnny, I TOLD YOU TO  SIT YOUR BUTT DOWN NOW! Mom!! Mom!! Mom!! Can I go to the store now? Pleeeeease? I don’t know if the time is right to buy; it just feels like real estate prices may continue to plummet – maybe we should wait. Oh I just can’t decide between the chicken and biscuits and the meatloaf. But they’ve got the best biscuits! So we’re thinking of taking a trip. What kind of dressings did you say you have?

Brooke was on high alert when the waitress came over and introduced herself. “Hi, I’m Michela,” she said with a friendly lilt. “I’ll be your waitress today.” I tried to glance up at her. I think I may have even tried to muster a smile, but I was panicky. I was focused completely on Brooke, who was giving every signal that she was on the verge of losing it. I was trying to decide if I might just need to get her the hell out of there. She yelped once, relatively quietly, but the storm was brewing.

I looked up at Luau as he settled into his seat. “Do you have her headphones?” I asked. He patted his pockets and shook his head. “I think they’re in the car.” I asked him to run back and find them. The waitress still stood next to the table. I knew she was there, but I just couldn’t look up at her. Brooke looked anxious and miserable. Every muscle was tense. I handed her the kid’s menu and crayons that the host had left. “Nice and calm, Brooke. It’s OK, baby. Can you do a little drawing while Daddy goes to the car? He’ll be right back.”

“I would wear my headphones!” she said, just a little too loudly. Cracker Barrel was beginning to feel just a little like the third ring of hell. Michela finally walked away, assuring me she’d be back whenever we were ready for her.

Just as Luau was coming back from the car to tell me that he couldn’t find Brooke’s headphones, Michela reappeared. “Excuse me,” she said gently, “if you have some sensory difficulties, you’re welcome to move over to that table right there.” She motioned toward a table not ten feet away, but much larger and set into some semblance of a corner. “I know it doesn’t look much different, but it’s out of the line of fire a bit. You won’t have so many people passing right by.” I nodded gratefully and furiously began to gather our things together to make the move.

I welled up as I told Luau what she’d said. It was perfect. The sensitivity in her phrasing was worth its weight in gold. Hell it was worth MY weight in gold. (Think Fort Friggin Knox).

I thanked Michela just a little too intensely. She was absolutely right. The new table was a world away from the last. It was amazing how much of a difference it made. A now calm Brooke played with Luau’s iPhone (yes, dear, you’re STILL right) and I exhaled for the first time since walking in.

As we got ready to leave, I handed Michela a $20 bill as a tip on our $40 check. The money seemed a crass way to thank her, but at the same time, she’d given up the chance to seat a larger party at the table and I didn’t want her to be penalized for her kindness. As I handed it to her, I looked her in the eye and said, “I just want you to know, the little things can mean a lot more than you think. Thank you.”

She smiled in response. “Oh, no, I know,” she said slowly. “I have a special one too.”

I was grateful that she pretended not to notice the tears spilling down my cheeks. She knew better. She knew to just keep moving.

I asked her to bring a manager over. We told him how thankful we were. Yesterday, I called Cracker Barrel’s corporate headquarters and told a delightful lady there what a wonderful employee they had. She assured me that Michela would be commended by the Vice President of the company. I don’t know if the commendation will mean anything to her, but I just had to say something.

Thank you, Michela. From one mom to another – thank you.

28 thoughts on “an angel in the cracker barrel

  1. *sniff* I think it will mean something to her. She said she had a “special one, too.” If nothing else, she will know that someone else, somewhere gets it, too, and she will pay it forward every chance she gets. And she will hold in her heart the knowledge that she made someone’s difficult walk through life just a smidge easier. That’s worth a lot. xo

  2. What a wonderful experience- those gestures restore my faith in humanity. Seems every time I have a bad day likie yours (waking baby), something like this is waiting around the corner for me. Ah the roller coaster ride of our lives. Angels like Michela definitely live amongst us.

  3. “sniffle”

    Wow, wow wow I am so amazed by Brooke’s ability to regulate herself after being so bombarded by her senses. That is amazing. She seems to really understand her sensory needs and not only does she know what she needs to get through it (headphones) but once her environment is adjusted she can relax. I don’t even think most typical kids her age could do this so fluidly. I know when Nathan, my typical 6 year old, gets fidgety or over-stimulated it takes a while and a lot of parental guidance to get him to calm back down.
    Yahoo Brooke!

    PS I love love love how you go out of your way to make sure the people who have helped know how grateful you are. It is inspiring.

  4. i think michela and winnie should team up and open their own chain of restaraunts. design it all around their personalities, their ability to make people comfortable, not overwhelmed.

    the cracker gong.

    the jess’s of the world would flock to it, keep it in good business. we need more people like this in the world.

  5. Michela was wonderful but you, true to your word to spread sensitivity as far and wide as possible, you my dear, are the class act. You acknowledged and followed up on supporting what michela did. You were generous with your time, effort, and money on her behalf. She was wonderful, you are classy.


  6. I was okay until Michela says “I have a special one too” —


    The tears, they came.

    Oh, isn’t it true that we know our own people; that the little things are HUGE for us; that given a small inch, or crack, the gratitude is hundredfold.

    On the West Coast, we don’t have these Cracker Barrel places. I’ve always laughed at the name, the convention of the place.
    Now I’m dying to go.

    Cheers, Michela.

  7. I have great memories of Cracker Barrel from the midwest/south/east. Something about a to-die-for cashew chicken salad.

    And you, missy….I need to keep a box of kleenex next to my computer because I’m crying AGAIN! What a beautiful story. 99% of others would have missed it. I agree with your dad – good for you for following up – I’m sure she appreciated the extra tip and the commendations more than YOU know. 🙂

    XO R

  8. My whole body tensed up as I was reading this post because I know all about Cracker Barrel. We have a Cracker Barrel on every corner here.

    Their food is tasty but the acoutics horrendous. I almost always have to put tissue in my ears there. It’s been so bad sometimes that it felt like I was having an out of body experience…but the family LOVES them some CB….so I go. I’ve learned to go between 2 and 4pm if at all possible. No crowd then.

    Tears flowed here too.

  9. jasmin-

    thanks for pointing that out! I am so amazed and pleased with how tuned in brooke has become to her own needs. her ability to ask for the headphones or request a walk or a break has been incredibly empowering for her and has made her reactions to these situations much more manageable.

    i am afraid i over simplified the story though. saying “the now calm brooke” implies an ease that isn’t quite the case. “calm” was relative. i just meant to say that she was off the edge of the fight or flight reaction, but she was hardly the picture of relaxation. she loves the drawing program on her dad’s iPhone and it does wonders to help her shift her focus.

    just wanted to make sure that I wasn’t giving the false impression that she turned on a dime. would that she could – maybe a few more months??

  10. Another great post. I love Brooke. She constantly amazes me. She reminds me just a bit of my little guy (not so little anymore – he’s 9). Thaanks for the cry. It was a good one, and I needed it.
    Cindy and AJ

  11. You are so right about thanking those who do the little things that make all the difference. Thanks for the reminder. And so glad you were all able to make it through. It’s so nice for Katie, too, to be able to eat at Cracker Barrel like any ole’ family!

  12. Bless you, Michela, for making it just a bit easier for our children. May all the karma flow back to you — in droves.

    The things we’ve learned from our kids, huh, Jess? Brooke is teaching us all how to spot angels in the most mundane of places.

  13. The way you wrote that made me feel like I was right there in that Cracker Barrel with you guys. My tears spill over as I write this. And how you “blessed” each other by paying attention- she noticed the sensory issues and moved you. You noticed that she gave up a big table for you and made sure she didn’t miss out on a good tip. What a great story. Hugs to you!

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