I drove slowly down the ice-covered highway taking care not to accelerate or brake too quickly, lest the travel trailer hitched to my truck’s hitch decide to take off on its own. I had no intention of joining those folks who jackknifed or slid off into the ditch.

The four lane was down to two, one on each side, consisting of parallel dark tracks leading the way toward Doreen’s 24 HR Eat Gas Now Cafe.

Willie frowned at his steel insulated cup.

“Out of coffee.”

“It won’t be much longer. Doreen’s is just ahead.”

“Remind me never again to go off looking at deer leases with you this time of the year.”

The Hunting Club membership spent two days out near Rotan, Texas, boondocking in the trailer and trying to decide if we wanted to hunt out there next year. What the news-yappers were calling a once in a generation winter storm drove us out, so we were on the way back home.

Doc and Jerry Wayne followed somewhere far behind. Doc is more cautious. Constable Rick couldn’t go, but agreed to meet us at Doreen’s on the way back, to hear about what we’d discovered.

I squinted into the frozen falling winter weather.

“It sure looks different out here, covered in snow.”

“That’s the truth.” Willie tilted the cup to drain the last drops. “I know we’re close, but nothing is familiar. I’m surprised we don’t see her lights by now.”

Taking my foot off the accelerator, I pointed.

“There it is. The power is out.”

“Probably rolling blackouts. That’s what’s going on back home.”

There were half a dozen vehicles in the parking lot. I steered across the lot and made a circle to pull up close to the door. Her neon sign was out and candles flickered inside. We saw people moving around behind the frosty glass. Sleet rattled down again as we de-trucked and made our careful way inside.

Doreen and her customers were quietly talking in the dark when we stepped inside. She looked up.

“Close the door!”

“That was the first sweet thing you ever said to me all those years ago,” I told her.

“We haven’t had power for a couple of hours.” She flicked a finger toward the kitchen. “No coffee. No hot food. I’m gonna put in a generator when all this is over.”

Willie blanched.

“Not hot coffee?”

“Sorry, hon.”

“Why does he get a ‘hon’ and I get ‘shut the door’?”

“I’m moody.”

I snapped my fingers.

“I got you covered. Willie, give me a hand.”

We returned a couple of minutes later with my two Honda generators and extension cords. The mood inside the café immediately improved and minutes later the coffeemaker was perking along when Doc and Jerry Wayne arrived.

Before long, we had more light when they brought in camping lanterns. The cafe came to life and everyone’s mood improved.

We finally had coffee and we realized something was missing. The smell of frying bacon. I returned to the camper and came back with a cast iron grill. There was still gas, though the pressure was low, but we soon had it on the stove’s burners and bacon sandwiches were in the works, with the addition of two more extension cords plugged into the toaster.

Constable Rick arrived and came inside, stomping snow off his boots.

“I think I like it better in here like this.”

Unusually cheerful, Doreen poured coffee for us and the other customers who’d perked up. Conversation in the homey light increased and despite the terrible weather, laughter echoed through the cafe.

“Everything is on the house today!” Doreen announced.

Cheers all around.

Constable Rick watched a highway patrol car cruise past.

“Doreen. I have an idea, if it’s all right with you. I want to reach out to all the first responders and tell them there’s hot coffee and bacon.”

Her eyes went to the windows and gray landscape outside.

“I should have thought of that.”

“We all should have,” Doc said.

Constable Rick made a couple of calls and told his friends and coworkers to spread the news. One of the customers at the counter was an old rancher, and I saw him punch in a couple of calls on his phone.

Half an hour later, a dozen pickups were in Doreen’s parking lot. Some had portable generators, and more than one welding truck with big diesel generators rattling away. Heavy duty extension cords tangled in spaghetti-like snarls across the floor to a variety of appliances.

Work lights on stands glared.

Bacon sizzled.

A continuous stream of coffee drained into pots and ultimately cups.

Word spread, and soon another continuous stream ensued, cold and tired law enforcement officers, firefighters and paramedics came and went, sometimes only filling a thermos or insulated coffee cup. Others left with to-go bacon or egg sandwiches.

Next came veterans, and folks retired from those same services who lingered, spinning stories, renewing old friendships and laughing in the face of daunting weather and unanticipated crises resulting from the weather.

One of the local ranchers uncoiled still another extension cord and soon the jukebox came to life, filling the room with good old classic country.

It was a party for those who care.

Doreen reigned over it all and glowed with pleasure.

It’s the Texas way, and we intend to keep it just like that.

Reavis Z. Wortham is an award-winning outdoor writer with family ties to Lamar County. He is the author of “Laying Bones.”

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