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A Texas treasure

Last year while visiting Becky and future son-in-law living in Mineral Wells, Texas, they took us to several different places to eat. So when we were visiting them last week, I told Becky I wanted to go back to a little gas station/convenience store, Tommy's, for their delicious crispitos.

OK. In Becky and Vernon's defense, they treated us to a fabulous dinner at Texas de Brazil in Fort Worth and a local restaurant known for their fried catfish, hush puppies and fried green tomatoes. Vernon's mother made a super delicious meal one evening (an amazing cook) and Vernon smoked a beef brisket that melted in your mouth and baked a cake for us another evening. I'd pit him up against Bobby Flay any day.But for some reason, I had a hankerin' for Tommy's crispitos.Harry, Becky and I visited Tommy's on our way back from running some errands.The minute we walked in we were greeted by a cheery voice asking us what she could help us with. I was "Baby Doll" and "Baby Girl." I felt so special.But as other lady customers came in, she called them "Baby Doll" and "Baby Girl" too.While she catered to her customers' needs, she kept up a running conversation with them all, many of them regulars that she knew by name. She'd ask about their spouses and children, tease them and often cracked a joke or shared a wittism with them.Mary Walton, "like the mountain, not the money," she says, is a genuine Texas treasure.Someone came in and asked Mary, "How ya doin'?" to which she quickly replied, "I'm finer than frog hair split three ways. That's pretty damn fine."I couldn't help but ask Mary about herself and her upbeat attitude.Mary was only too happy to tell me a little of her story after she shared this Texas joke."Did you hear about the young bull who said to his daddy, the old bull, 'How about we run over there, jump the fence and have our way with all those cows?' The old bull said, 'Nah. How about we just walk down through the gate and then have our way with 'em.'"She cackled and admits she gets a lot of her material off the Internet. Plus her brother-in-law's a comic, "Or thinks he is."She lives in Mineral Wells (or as she called it, Miserable Smells), has a daughter who lives nearby, a brother who lives in California and works for CBS and a sister in Nebraska, "a real Debbie Downer. I think it's the corn."Her mother is in a nursing home and Mary admitted to having had some pretty rough times."I try not to let it get me down. There's so much down in this world, I try to be up," she said.She was married five times. She buried the first four and divorced the fifth."I loved them to death," she laughed at her own joke. She admitted the first three were all about 30-35 years older than she was.The fourth was the love of her life. He was only 15 years older."People would tell him he was a cradle robber and he'd say I was a rocking chair robber," she said.She got a little sober and said, "I still miss him today. Whenever I see a yellow butterfly, I see it as a sign from him because yellow was his favorite color."People tell Mary all the time how much they love her cooking at Tommy's."It's true. Her burgers are so good I hurt myself," said her very slim co-worker."Thanks, Sweetie," said Mary. Then she looked at me and said, "Now if a fat person came in here and said that, that would be an accomplishment. And by the way, Sweetie is her real name. Ain't that right, Sweetie?"Sweetie looked up from her task at hand and nodded."That's what my birth certificate says. I was named after my grandmother."Now I thought, "This is probably another good story …"Mary picked up the thread of conversation with why her burgers are so good."I have a special secret ingredient. I put it in everything. But I won't tell anybody. So on my days off, the burgers and food isn't the same and the regular customers know it. And if I leave, my secret goes with me," she chuckled.Tommy's almost qualifies as a dinner theater with Mary as the star entertainer. One time she said, "Unless you're the lead dog, the scenery never changes."Mary is Tommy's lead dog, and with everyone who enters the doors, her scenery changes, and always for the better, because it's her mission to put a smile on their faces, which keeps one on hers.