Creativity Challenge – Jim Trela Submission

Excerpt from The Acknowledger

Maximillian Xavier LaGlace, whom his friends knew as Max, was in a daze as he drove home in his Cadillac CT6. He had gone from one of the most interesting training sessions of his career to getting his behind handed to him by his boss because of employee turnover and shabby work. Here he was, the Director of Manufacturing IT for Tech Three Manufacturing, worrying about his job.  This had never happened to Max in his entire career.

And yet, Max couldn’t shake the feeling that these two events had a connection. He needed to think.

“I’ll head to Lynn’s place.  That always helps me settle down,” he thought to himself.

Lynn Nagy owned My Home Cooking, a small diner in town, with four booths and seven stools along the counter.  The best pies in town were in the glass case as you entered, right next to the cash register. The diner was a favorite of all the desk jockeys that needed a break on their way home. Max loved Lynn’s place.

Max could see the glow from the diner as he rounded the bend in the road. The small rocks on the old asphalt parking lot crunched beneath the wheels of his car as he rolled up to the diner.  He stepped out of the car, and the bright, cheery lights beckoned him in as he closed the door. He could smell the pies that were freshly baked. Was that apple?

Max pushed the door open while a small bell up in the corner of the door announced his arrival. Lynn turned around and, with her smile as big as ever, said, “Max! Great to see you. Your corner booth is waiting for you.”

Max knew exactly where to go. He crossed the immaculate ceramic tile floor as he walked past the other happy little booths. He was just settling in when Lynn came over with a fresh pot of coffee in one hand and a plate with apple pie à la mode in the other. She filled his mug with steaming coffee while setting the pie down in front of him. Max just looked at her with a huge smile. “How did you know?”

Lynn flashed him a smile that would melt the coldest of hearts and continued back to the counter. You see, Lynn knew everyone in the diner well enough to predict with great accuracy what they wanted.  The best part was that she always seemed to have the perfect slice of pie ready for him whenever he arrived.

He was in no hurry and needed to ponder all he had been through during the day. He attended the presentation on Grateful Leadership and the Power of Acknowledgment given by Judith W. Umlas.   The presentation resonated with him. Max knew some things had to change, especially when she spoke of low employee engagement, declining productivity, and employee retention issues. There was also some sort of recipe to make this acknowledgment magic happen. She called them the “5 Cs.”

The low point of the day was when Cynthia  Pullman, the Tech Three CIO, called him to her office and then proceeded to show him how everything he touched these days was turning to crap.  How could Max both keep people and produce a quality product with almost 30% turnover?  The market was cut-throat. He had to pay a 10% premium to get people to join the company. Even with the higher salary, people still didn’t stay. He couldn’t believe that Harrison Smith, the guy he’d hired to be his Chief Architect, had turned in his resignation after being with Tech Three for under six months. And he was going back to the company he’d left; back to his old position, and salary! It just didn’t make sense.

Without thinking about it, Max looked down at his plate and the four crumbs left on it. He liked coming here. The place was warm and cheery. Lynn had a delightful voice, especially as she called each customer by name. You could always tell new customers because Lynn would spend extra time getting to know them personally. She couldn’t be making a lot of money. Still, there was always a steady stream of customers.

Max felt he should say something to Lynn, but he didn’t know how to do it. He didn’t want to make a scene or embarrass her, but he knew Lynn and her caring way was why he kept coming there. But what could he do about it? 

What was it that Judy Umlas said?  The Five Cs? The first was Consciousness. One should become aware of all the people around them that should be acknowledged. Lynn was definitely one of them.

The second C was Choice. Max knew he should say something to Lynn. But he’d never done anything like this before. Okay, he made the choice to acknowledge Lynn before he left the restaurant.  Then, everything flooded into his mind. How would she react? Would she take it as him coming on to her?  Or maybe she would see it as someone trying to get free food? Would she be insulted, or even embarrassed?

 Max shook his head trying to refocus on the Five Cs. What did Judy say was next? The third C is Courage.   She said that, if it comes sincerely from the heart, it cannot be done wrong. Max sure hoped so. He was trusting in the presentation and decided to go for it. Lynn needed to hear what he was going to say. The choice was made.

Now, what was the fourth C?  Ah, Communication; the message is no good if it is left floating around in a person’s head. But how would he communicate in a place that was so busy? Also, this is a rather personal thing, so he couldn’t just go up to her and interrupt.  Maybe a note? Yes, that was it. Max would write her a note.  He had a pen, but no paper.  Wait, there was an extra placemat on the table across from him. He was ready to go.


I have been coming to this restaurant for years because of the personal attention you give to each and every person that comes in that door. You know everyone by name, and that is truly appreciated.  You also go the extra mile to anticipate what a customer wants and have it ready almost as soon as they sit down.  These things bring me back time and time again. I plan to keep coming back for years to come.


                Max LaGlace

Max gently folded the placemat in two and headed to the counter to pay. Lynn said, “Thank you,” as soon as Max passed the cash to her. 

“Keep the change,” Max replied. “Great as usual, Lynn. And I just jotted down some thoughts while I was sitting there. This is for you.” Max handed Lynn the note and headed to the restroom before walking out to the car.

Lynn looked at Max incredulously as he walked away.

A few minutes later, as Max walked past the counter toward the door, he noticed something different. Lynn looked at him with the biggest smile he’d seen from her yet, and a tear in her eye. “I know you are a busy man,” she said, “but please, sit down for a minute here at the counter. This cup of coffee is on me.” Her voice sounded like that of an angel as she spoke.

Max stared at her stunned, and slowly, deliberately, walked to the stool and sat down.  His cup of coffee was already there waiting. Not sure what to expect, Max’s thoughts raced while Lynn delivered a meal to another customer and walked back to the counter.  “Max, I wanted to show you these,”  she said as she reached under the counter. She pulled a stack of colorful letter-sized paper and placed them in front of him.

“After 20 Years of My Home Cooking, Lynn Nagy Is Retiring.” There was a picture of Lynn and her husband, Bobby, on the flyer with big smiles on their faces. The rest of the paper was covered with memories and final farewell words from Lynn.

“What’s this,” asked Max, “You’re closing My Home Cooking?”

There was a twinkle in her eye as she looked back at the cook, her husband. Then she took the pile of flyers and tossed them into the garbage can. “Not Any More!”

Max sat there with his mouth wide open, chin against his chest, and tried to make sense of what he had just experienced. “I’m a little confused, Lynn. What’s going on?”

“Max,” Lynn replied, “since I opened up My Home Cooking almost 20 years ago, I wanted to make it something special.  I’ve worked hard making sure I knew everyone’s name and favorite menu items.  I have been very careful not to remove any of the favorites over the years. But in all of that time, no one has noticed. At least nobody told me they noticed all of these little things I’ve done, until now; until you.  All we ever heard about was the slow service, or how an order was messed up or cold.  Everything was complaints. Until now. ” She looked down and shook her head, the smile on her face continuing to grow as another tear fell from her eye.

“I showed this to Bobby while you were busy and we decided that we are going to stay open!  Someone really saw me and my diner for what it was! I couldn’t be happier.  You haven’t just made my day; you’ve made the last 20 years all worthwhile.”

Lynn came out from behind the counter and gave Max a huge hug, “Thank you. I look forward to seeing you again, very soon.”

Max looked over toward the kitchen. Bobby stood there, smiled and gave him two big thumbs up “You are very welcome, Lynn. And you too, Bobby!”  As he walked toward the door, Max felt as if he were walking on air.

Once he reached his car, he stopped and looked back at the diner, then slid himself into the drivers’ seat. “This really works!” he said silently. Max had been smiling so much, his cheeks were beginning to hurt, but he didn’t care.

Something clicked when he put the car into drive, and it wasn’t the transmission. It was in his mind. “The fifth C – Commitment. This is something I can really get into.”

At that precise moment, Max took his right foot off the accelerator, the car slowly coming to a stop on the side of the road. A tear welled up in his eye and slowly, silently, rolled down his cheek. With a look of determination in his eye and a smile on his face, he said to himself, “There is someone else that deserves to be acknowledged, and words certainly aren’t enough.  I think there is a flower shop between here and home that will have exactly what I need for Jen.”

It had been over a month since Max had been back to My Home Cooking. He didn’t know what to expect as he pulled his car into the parking lot of the diner. The last time he was there, he had handed Lynn the note.

Max got out of the car and walked tentatively to the door, hoping nothing would happen.  He pushed the door open, the small bell announcing his arrival. But no Lynn was there to greet him. There were people in the diner, a few more than usual for that time of the day. As he walked past the counter, he noticed the note he had written on the back of the placemat was framed and hung on the wall. Then he stopped and looked at the frame more closely. It was covered with little “thank you” notes taped all around.

“Max! Come on in!” chimed Lynn’s familiar voice. She had been sitting in a booth with another woman, the other having a voice recorder in hand. Lynn and the other woman stood up, shook hands and the woman headed toward the door.

“Business looks good!” remarked Max, not knowing what else to say. Lynn was beaming a smile that melted his heart.

“Yes, it is,” she said.  “Pick any open booth and I’ll be right with you.”

Lynn appeared less than a minute later with a pot of coffee in one hand and a slice of apple pie à la mode in the other. She slid the plate of pie in front of Max, filling his mug with the steaming liquid which he was craving.

“That was a reporter from the Evening News. They are doing a review of the diner to be put in their local section. Oh, and I just had to frame your little note, and since we hung it up by the cash register, others have been sending me little notes about the diner. That’s what got the attention of the paper that sent the reporter.”

Max just smiled, took a bite of the best apple pie in town, and sipped his coffee. The smile never left his face.