A Bride for Jimmy

A Bride for Jimmy

From Chicken Soup for the Soul Celebrating People Who Make a Difference

A Bride for Jimmy

Do all the good you can . . . in all the ways you can . . . as long as ever you can.

John Wesley

I was often the unwilling copilot on my father’s delivery runs across the broad green plains of the prairies. In the prairies every grain elevator had a town or village attached, and we would wind our way through the miles slowly. The “milkstop” run it was called, and with good reason: we stopped at every milkstop on the way. But when we reached the town with the three elevators, I grew more attentive, for here is where we’d stop for lunch at Jimmy’s cafe.

The paint on the outside frame, white with a green border, was weathered by the winds that blew across the dusty miles. Wind chimes, Chinese dragons, and pagodas hung outside, and they would sing to me of faraway places. This was Jimmy’s, and I always got the best at Jimmy’s.

Jimmy owned one of those wonderful Chinese restaurants that dotted the prairie landscapes. Dad would pull into the diagonal parking spot and turn off the engine. I’d hold his hand, which was covered with oil and dirt, and skip as we strode along the wooden walk. Jimmy’s chimes would sing a warm welcome, and I would stand outside listening until I was hustled in.

“Blocking the entrance is bad for Jimmy’s business,” Father would grumble.

Jimmy would come out of the kitchen, white apron tied around his small frame. Jimmy had the fastest hands I had ever seen and could put Matt Dillon on Gunsmoke out of a job—this much I knew. When it wasn’t too busy, Jimmy used to let me sit in the back and watch him make filled dumplings, or spin Chinese noodles. They were better than pasta or the homemade egg noodles my grandmother made.

Dad and I would take our usual spot on the round counter seats. They were red and slick, with a marbled thread of black running through, stuck on a silvery platform. I sat next to Jimmy’s goldfish tank. “Good luck fish,” he would say. I would swirl around and around on my seat until a stern look from Father would stop my dizzying dance.

As Jimmy and Father discussed the local grain situation, I was given an ice-cream soda in a tall silver flask. It was piled high with whipped cream and topped with a perfect cherry from a glass jar. Jimmy would smile at me and call me young lady, the first man ever to do so. While Father read the paper, Jimmy would show me his Chinese abacus and pictures from home when he was a boy. We talked about teachers and how I should always try to be polite, but not afraid to ask questions. “How else you going to learn?” Jimmy would say, and Father would moan quietly from his corner.

When Jimmy reached forty, something was in the air. He had been corresponding with a family member who knew a girl who might be interested in him. When we traveled to Jimmy’s, he would show us letters exchanged formally with the young lady, and although they were in Chinese and I couldn’t make them out quite right, Jimmy translated her words to me softly. I could tell he was falling in love.

But he was shy about approaching this young lady. He didn’t know her. What did she like? What didn’t she like? Would she find the winters in Canada too cold? Would she be content in the small prairie town he had grown to call home? How would he raise the money for the passage? I felt like I was going to cry for Jimmy.

Father saved me by changing the subject back to the matter at hand. “Ask the girl questions, Jimmy!” he declared. “How else are you going to learn if you don’t ask questions?”

Married men offered their advice on how to court a lady, and Jimmy wrote it down. Farmer’s wives took pictures of Jimmy in his best suit, showing the beauty of the prairies in all the seasons. Jimmy sent them on. Finally, he got up the nerve to ask her to marry him through an honored family go-between.

Months went by without an answer, and I began to add Jimmy to my prayers. “Please, let things work out for Jimmy,” I implored. “He is so lonely.”

I was there that rainy afternoon when Jimmy finally received word from China. She would come to Canada as his wife. But Jimmy had a problem. He had saved his money to buy his new bride a passage, but he had nothing to spare for the wedding he had dreamed of giving her.

“Have faith, Jimmy,” the farm wives told him. But Jimmy knew there was no one to borrow money from. Crops had been poor that year, and money was in short supply, just like the rain.

The farm wives got together and schemed. Quietly, for months, the folk who lived in the area collected for Jimmy’s wedding. Father had been put into service; while on milkstop run, he took the enamel pickle jar and got his customers to contribute.

Everyone knew Jimmy, his friendly face, and the wonderful food from his restaurant, and everyone wanted to help out.

On a fine summer day, dressed in traditional clothing, Jimmy and his wife walked down the aisle in the country church, surrounded by friends they didn’t know they had. The money was enough to give his bride a wedding she would never forget, and although she was scared so far away from home, she soon felt welcomed as a part of our country community.

I often think of Jimmy and his wife from far away. I know a lot of the small whistle stops of my childhood have since disappeared, but somewhere an old Chinese restaurant stands, the paint a little worn and Chinese lanterns dancing in the prairie wind. Good luck gold fish swim inside a green glass tank. This is Jimmy’s, and at Jimmy’s you always get the best.

Nancy Bennett

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