FORT MILL -- Somebody had to work Christmas Day at Hardee's, right there at the top of Main Street in Fort Mill. Actually, five somebodies.
Susan Castillo to run the joint, Kenny Porter in the back on the grill, Josephine White, "Miss Jo," making biscuits like she has for so long, Geraldine Wylie at the counter and Weydeen Jones manning the drive-through like she has for almost two decades.
"Didn't want to go, it was Christmas. I even gave one quick thought to calling in," Wylie said. "But I didn't. When you have to work, you go to work. Even Christmas."
Nobody called in sick. The old men of the coffee clatches, the early group and the late group, showed up to sit around inside and shoot the breeze. A few others were hungry.
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Around 10:30 a.m., through the speaker came an order for a bulging sackful of bacon, egg and cheese biscuits. The order came to $33 and change.
Miss Jo had just pulled a tray of hot biscuits out of the oven, and all were golden-brown, the color of memory. Steaming and flaky and tender as summer clouds. The customer drove around to the window, paid Jones, who can't stop smiling, even when working on Christmas Day, and took his food.
Then the guy looked in that sack and sat there a minute or two.
"The customer then told me to please come outside, he wanted to talk to me," Jones said. "I thought I had messed up his order, missed something."
Jones hustled out the front door.
"Guy was in his late 30s probably, dark hair, in a red diesel truck," Jones said. "He asked me how many was workin'. I said five. And he pulls out five $100 bills. Tells me make sure everybody gets one. And then he says, 'I thank you. You have a Merry Christmas.' "
Then the guy, nameless -- "I sure seen him before a couple times, though," said Jones -- drove off without another word.
Jones ran back inside, jumping up and down. She ran into Wylie, who had thought for that one second about not coming to work, and Wylie starts to jump and holler. Then Porter the cook is hollering and it is C-notes and bedlam on Christmas at Hardee's.
The coffee guys want to know what is going on, and Jones tells them, and they are happy, too. This is a group of men who pooled extra money for Jones to give to someone in need a day before, on Christmas Eve, so they know a giving gesture when they see one.
Castillo was so stunned she couldn't holler.
"Never happened before," she said of $100 bills.
Miss Jo has never hollered, and this grandmother sure ain't starting on Christmas, with biscuit flour up to her elbows and orders to be filled.
Yet Miss Jo White stopped what she was doing for a moment and prayed.
"Thank you, Jesus," she said out loud. "The man is a blessing. He must have been an angel."
Castillo has stashed her hundred for a need she knows will come up. Porter the cook was so struck, he broke that hundred and gave some of it away.
Wylie had left her young children to work on Christmas. She came home, and it sure was merrier. She will spend some of the money on those kids, maybe use the rest "to get my hair done."
Miss Jo took that hundred home and put it away, because when you have four grown children and grandchildren and have worked all your life, that is what you do with a hundred dollar bill that comes from a place she said is called, "heaven, where Jesus lives."
And then there is Weydeen Jones.
"Nobody here gets more compliments," Castillo said about Jones. "I have had customers ask me to call the corporate office just to say how wonderful she is."
A couple days before Christmas, Jones' car wouldn't start. Dead battery.
That's where her $100 will go.
"Maybe that man knew I needed one," Jones said. "Maybe God knew."
Or maybe that guy in a red truck knew that Weydeen Jones, so joyful and gracious, working on Christmas Day in the drive-through, had with a smile and sackful of biscuits made his Christmas dreams come true.