It was a Saturday and it was so easy to remember because it looked and felt like a Saturday. It was just one of those days that you’d pass through on the way to somewhere else.
The café had stood on the edge of the sands since 1927 when old Sonny Mist built it with his father using wood from the wrecks of two barges that had washed up along the shore. It was originally opened under the name, ‘The Resurrection Café’ but when Charlie Mist died his son changed the name to ‘Sunrise’ the day after the funeral.
It hadn’t been loved the way Sonny had promised his dad. There was rot along the outside front and damp hid in every corner - yet despite everything, it was the only café for miles around and provided a welcome rest to those who walked the sands.
Sonny would recognize faces that turned up again and again. Some grew older and brought loved ones, some came here with lovers who were meant to be kept secret, and some just stopped off once and never returned.
On that Saturday there was a sharp coldness that was tempered with sunshine.
A snowstorm had promised to blow in from the swell of the eastern sea. Inside the building, the Café smelled of the gas ring from the cooker that was boiling up another kettle of water. A small coal fire kept the winter chill at bay.
Sonny wandered over to the fire and nodded to the man in passing. “Cold again,” said Sonny in a mumble that made the man think he had said ‘old again’.
Sonny shovelled on a miserly amount of coal, smiled at the fire then hobbled back to his little wooden desk.
The man had just been blowing on the steam that had risen from his second cup of tea and was wiping the condensation from the window, when he saw a blackness moving in the distance. He could have sworn that it had emerged from the sea but just then, more condensation lay on top of the small clearing and all visibility was gone.
The next time he saw the blackness it was standing outside the café. The door opened and banged against the wall powered by the wind and then let the depressing sea air fill the room. The blackness now recognized as a man in an American army uniform who slammed the door behind him.
“If that don’t beat all,” he said, slapping his arms and legs to restore some sort of blood supply. The man in the uniform wandered over to the fire and warmed his hands.
“Hey bud, you could do with some more coal on here.”
Sonny looked up, smiled a little and went back to sorting his teacups.
“By any chance would you have some coffee?” Asked the American.
Without looking up, Sonny told him there hadn’t been any since 1939.
“Are you sure? Maybe you could you check bud, just for me.” The American asked again.
Sonny was almost sure that he was sure - then he remembered an old tin that had lain at the back of his mother’s cabinet where she had kept all the good china teacups. He wandered over and checked, and sure enough there was enough for a pot of coffee.
The news seemed to cheer the American up who was sitting on a chair close to the fire.
“This country is always cold,” he said. There was seawater dripping from his uniform and creating a huge pool on the floor.
“You’re wet,” said the man sipping his Saturday cup of tea.
The American looked at his uniform as if it was for the very first time.
“Well what do you know, would you look at that. I wonder how that happened?” Said the man in uniform.
The man sipping his tea was ready to mention that he thought he had seen the American emerging from the sea but just then Sonny came over with a plate and a cup.
“Your coffee will be ready shortly, “ said Sonny.
The American rubbed his hands again and then looked over at the tea man.
“The name’s Miller,” said the American as he put his hand out to shake the tea drinker.
“John, John Rush,” said the man in a very English accent.
“Good to meet you John, real good to meet you.”
“You’re a major,” said John.
“Sure am,” said Major Miller who didn’t continue with the conversation.
“I might be wrong but did I just see you just come out of the sea?” Asked John.
Just then Sonny brought over a steaming pot of coffee.
“You’re a life saver,” said the Major.
Sonny stared at John, then added “I think you’re wrong there, John. I’m sure you couldn’t see out the window. The Major didn’t come out of the sea, did you Major?” Asked Sonny.
But the Major was too busy sipping his coffee. “Mmm, this is real good, just like back home. The best I’ve tasted in this war,” said the Major.
“It was a little luxury of my mother’s,” said Sonny.
“Well tell her thanks,” said the Major.
“She’s long gone,” said Sonny.
“Don’t be,” said Sonny. “She’d be pleased someone’s enjoying it. She was the only coffee drinker in a family of tea drinkers.”
“It’ll be Christmas soon, said John. The calendar on the wall showed that it was December 16th, 1944.
“The way things are going over there, this might be the last Christmas in wartime,” said the Major.
“I’m hoping,” said Sonny. “I’m praying.” And he clasped his hands as if he was really hoping that God was listening.
The three of them sat in silence for a while, save only for the odd crackling of the fire and the sea wind buffeting the café windows and doors. Then the Major took out his wallet to pay for the coffee.
“On the house for a fighting man,” said Sonny. “Put your money away.”
“Much obliged,” said the Major. “Well I’ve dried some, so I think I’ll be heading - if that's okay with you guys?” The American stood, patted down his uniform then shook both Sonny and John’s hands.
“I’ll be seeing you and it's been a real pleasure to meet the both of you,” said the Major who was out of the door in an instant.
It was then that John noticed the American had dropped his wallet. In picking it up, it fell open and there was the man’s army ID: ‘Major Alton Glenn Miller’.
bobby stevenson 2014
Alton Glenn Miller
March 1, 1904
Clarinda, Iowa, United States
December 15, 1944 (aged 40)
Plane missing over the English Channel
Swing music, big band