My mother often describes her childhood as “growing up in a restaurant.” The Midway Cafe  divided the East from the West on the main street of Coleraine, Minnesota. It was sandwiched between narrow family businesses that had apartments at the top of very steep staircases. The shoe store had three aisles of shoe boxes stacked from floor to ceiling and sidewalk to storage room.  The “Red Owl” grocery had a swinging screen door and pixie sticks. Across the street from the Midway was the high school, a behemoth brick building with a tall window for each classroom. 

My grandmother owned the Midway Cafe and its upper level apartment where my mom’s family lived. My mom would go down the stairs early in the morning to help bake cinnamon and caramel rolls while my grandmother lined the long counter with metal lunch boxes. The miners would stop on their way to work, pick up the lunch she had prepared, and drop off the lunchbox after a long day in the pits of iron ore. 

My view of the restaurant relies on the eyes of a very young little girl. To me, the counter lined with round dark red mahogany seats atop metal posts was very tall and stretched a mile along the narrow space. Across from the counter, the wall was lined with a single row of back to back booths upholstered in the same thick mahogany. I’d get scolded for peeking over the seat at the old retired mining pals who were meeting at the Midway for their daily visit and a cup of coffee. 

Just inside the door was a jukebox that brought hours of entertainment to me and my sisters long after the Midway and its jukebox were just small town nostalgia in black and white photos. My mom told us how the jukebox man would update the latest bebop and rock n roll hits and sell the replaced records to her for a hard earned dime. She kept a 1950’s cosmetic case filled to the edges with the little black 45rpm discs. My sister and I would play DJ, lining up singles by Elvis Presley and Roger Miller rounded out with one hit wonders like “Lemon Tree”, “Big John”, and “Running Bear.”

I loved sitting at one of the booths in the Midway Cafe with my legs dangling as I ate a grilled cheese sandwich paired with one of my favorite treats, chocolate milk. I remember my mom cautioning me not to drink my chocolate milk too fast or I wouldn’t have any left when my sandwich arrived. In those days, all of the beverageware was the same size; menus were short and simple with no choices of small, medium, or large… and certainly no free refills. 

For the life of me I can’t remember which restaurant was the first to offer the marketing phenomenon of free refills. Franchise butts were profoundly puckered as they waited for the lunatic with the limitless product to go belly up in a puddle of soda. It didn’t happen… One by one, restaurants were chosen not by the fare they offered, but by their offer of free refills. My dad would turn on his heel and march right out of a restaurant if they served Diet Coke by the glass like some shot of whiskey in an old Western.

Before long, we began to see soda fountains on the CUSTOMER side of the counter! What the what??? A beverage buffet? Mothers of America! Why, for the sake of our sugared up sons and daughters, didn’t we protest this? My kids would throw back a couple of gallons of  Dr Pepper before I got my burger unwrapped. I learned to have the foresight of a long night with my caffeinated children, and therefore began refilling my cup every time they did. Oh, you thought you could make them just stop? Nooohooo. Sooner or later, the free refill would fill your bladder. I believe that is the reason there are multiple stalls in restaurant bathrooms. Free refills. While cross legged moms danced in the bathroom line, those little varmint children would jump up and fill back up. 

This morning I caved to fountain drink foul play… I got a medium with my breakfast biscuit. I drank it up, refilled it, got in the car, and poured the contents into my Yeti. Free refill for the road and it lasted all day. I know it probably cost the restaurant around two and a half cents for the contents, but I still felt greedy. Somewhere along the way, I’ve lost the value of pacing myself through a glass of chocolate milk at the Midway Cafe. 

I’m thankful for free refills. It’s convenient and refreshing. I wouldn’t mind one more grilled cheese with chocolate milk at my grandmother’s Cafe. Taking my time, sipping my drink… that would be refreshing, too.

I’m thankful there is refreshment for my spirit. Whether it be a quiet moment of reflection or a chaotic moment of desperation, one thing remains… I have the gift of eternal life through Jesus. If my spirit thirsts, it’s because I’ve emptied it. I have every resource available to remain refreshed… God’s word, prayer, testimony. I would like to give you the gift refreshment: a fountain with free refills. You simply have to fill your cup.

“I will lift up the cup of salvation and call on the name of the Lord” Psalm 116:13

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