I sipped iced tea waiting for my fried chicken salad and looked around at the families with toddlers in wooden booster seats and teenagers playing the peg game on the tables. Two scruffy ten-year-olds were playing checkers by the fireplace while they waited for their food to come. A grey-haired couple over by the barn wood wall was pointing at the vintage portrait of a serious-looking woman in a high, lace trimmed collar, as their waitress sat down a white stoneware plate of biscuits and corn muffins.
I picked up the package of soda crackers my server had brought to go with my salad and noticed that they were thicker than most crackers. I wondered to myself what company had made them for Cracker Barrel to custom label. Curious, I turned the packet over to check and noticed a small box of very small print, so small I reached for my glasses to read the tiny message. It said:
People often ask us where we got our name. It’s simple—back in the old days, crackers were shipped in barrels to country stores. When the barrels were empty, they were used as a place to hold a checkerboard, a conversation, or both. We’d like to think some things never change.
At Cracker Barrel everything counts: every rocking chair on the porch, every package of penny candy or Clove gum, every country churn on the shelf, every rusty Barq’s Root Beer sign on the wall—everything counts to make us weary wayfarers feel like we just dropped by the ol’ home place for pot roast and mashed potatoes.
In life everything counts, too. Every part-time job we ever held, every softball season we played through the dog days of summer, every great book we ever read, every experience at youth camp, every girl or guy that broke our hearts and we survived, every term paper we ever researched and wrote, every car we worked to pay for, every sweet and thoughtful thing we ever did to help grandma—everything counts.
I have a feeling that people who “make it big” with their worth and integrity in tact, got where they got one small thing at a time, because age and money only make us more—more whatever we are. If we are kind, generous, thoughtful, honest young people, chances are we will be kinder, more generous, more thoughtful old people. If we are responsible, caring, dependable teenagers, we probably will be responsible, compassionate, dependable leaders when we’re older and have more resources.
But if we take the easiest way out, cut corners, and cheat on exams when we’re young, we will most likely spend our later years “covering our tails”, betraying our friends and spouses, and making up bigger lies to cover the last ones.
The great news is that if our kids are discouraged because life isn’t happening fast enough, or if you are 45 and still don’t feel as if you are where you had hoped you’d be by now, everything counts. Everything matters. Every choice, every failure, every experience—all of it informs and equips the way we’ll spend the moments we have today.
Today I am switching the house around from the look of the busy summer to the warmth and colors of fall. Everything counts: the smells, the colors, the tastes, the textures, the music…. All of it is intentional and all of it matters if I want those who come through our kitchen door to “love it here in the fall!” I am peeling apples for a cinnamon apple cobbler. I am playing a CD of dulcimer music while I wrap a garland of fall leaves around the bannister of the staircase leading up to the playroom. I am bringing in acorns and pumpkins, cattails, bittersweet, and berries. I will light the rust colored candles and change the yellow tablecloths to the brown and copper ones. I just put on a pot of Bill’s favorite black bean soup and made a pan of cornbread. I say to myself: I have this day! Everything counts.
Isn’t it about time to set up a new fall puzzle?