On a particular roadtrip, though much off of the route which I was on, I decided in a nostalgic, spur-of-the-moment decision to meander to a town in North Carolina which I once lived: Gastonia. Though nothing in-particularly special about this town, it did hold 6 months of life and had been left in the dust eleven years prior, so I decided to grace the place with my brief presence- to drive past my old middle school, my old house, and to grab dinner from a local establishment which we used to order carryout from most every Friday night: Twin Tops Fish Camp.
About four miles off of the interstate, Twin Tops is not a restaurant commonly visited by those passing through- rather a local gem, favored by those already part of the Belmont/ Gastonia community. Fried food is not my favorite, but this particular place is considered a gem by locals and it did remind me of a brief chunk of my adolescence.
After trying relentlessly to get my mother off the phone, I ventured into place a carryout order, (after pacing in the parking lot for over 30 minutes, enhancing my already uneven sunburn). I was warmly welcomed by an inviting (insert Southern accent here), “welcome, baby, what can we get for you??” I decided to go with the pick-three combo, assuming it was dinner for a single person, as it was only $13-something. I went with fried oysters, chicken, and clam strips, knowing I’d only want a single bite of each to quench my nostalgia thirst. I sat and waited for my order when a man began a conversation with me regarding my roadtrip- very friendly fellow. Curious of my knowledge of the place, being so far off the highway, I had informed him I, at one time, lived only a block away. We chatted for a few moments and came to realize he was a friend of my almost-step-father (at one time). And come to find out, this man was the owner. I always adore when the owner of an establishment is so warm and inviting and actually works in and out of the kitchen alongside his employees.
When my food was ready, I was astonished that I had an entire bag of food- filled with pounds of fried goodies, mounds of hush puppies, and a half gallon of delightful sweet tea, that apparently comes with each carryout order. I was thinking “Oh my god, what am I going to do with all this food? I look like such a glutton.” So, I went to pay for my dinner-for-four, when I realized they only take credit cards if you know your pin number, which I have no clue. I had left my debit card at home and had just enough cash to conquer the West Virginia turnpike. I was humiliated and apologized, refusing to take the food. They insisted I take it with their lovely southern draw, “Oh no baby, you just have a good day. Thanks for stoppin’ by.”
I left feeling like such a dirtbag. And as soon as I placed the food on my passenger seat, realizing I’d never eat a portion of this, (which I happened to get for free), I thought to myself “I wish I was in NYC, or New Orleans, or Denver, where there’s beggers that I could give this to.” Although there may be a homeless population here, this area is not a section where they migrate, nor are there visible beggers. I drove for the ten-or-so minutes back to the highway when, miraculously, I saw an older woman, standing in the harsh afternoon sun, with a sign that read “God Bless” followed by something else.
Immediately, I turned onto the highway ramp, pulled over, and put the car in park. I walked back to the main road where she was standing, as she started walking away from the road, and yelled out “ma’am,” offering her the dinner and the half gallon of tea. Almost in tears, the woman said “if this is your dinner, what are you gonna eat?” I assured her I already had, (though I hadn’t), and insisted she take it. Though she informed me she couldn’t have sweet tea due to diabetes. She shook my hand several times, tears welling upon her saddened, light blue eyes, and thanked me.
I walked back down to my car and looked to the side as I sat down, and saw the woman walk out of the sun and under the cool comfort of a shade tree, where she sat down and began eating that same dinner I had accidentally gotten for free. For one of the only times of giving food to a homeless person, I felt the recipient was genuinely thankful and her almost-tears were enough to realize that sometimes things work out absolutely perfectly, in a world where we almost never expect them to. Only minutes before our encounter, I felt terrible and embarrassed, and just moments later, I felt engulfed with joy and an amazing sense of purpose- like I had, yet again, crossed paths with fate. Had I not ventured off the highway to that old-reminiscent spot and had I not taken that food (against my egotistic will), that woman may’ve remained hungry and sunburned that afternoon. And had I drove that same path only minutes later, she would’ve long been gone from that spot where I first saw her standing. But for some reason we were meant to meet in that small moment of time. And to add to the irony, that road (which Twin Tops Fish Camp and the woman stand alongside, as well as my old house and middle school) is called New Hope Road.
By: Ashley Halligan
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