By Riley Manning
The first time Cafe 212 owners Jason and Amanda Hayden met Edna, they had just opened the small restaurant downtown. In the years since, Edna and her infectious good attitude have become somewhat of a staple around the place.
“She came in off the street wanting a cup of water one day,” Jason said. “Been coming back for seven years.”
According to Amanda, Edna is quite the free spirit, despite complications stemming from her complete loss of hearing. She and Amanda have come to communicate by writing notes back and forth on a spare waitress check pad.
“She loves to talk to you,” Amanda said. “She’s such a sweet lady. As much as she’s got working against her, she always has a smile on her face.”
So when Amanda put a photo of Edna’s Christmas list on Facebook a few weeks ago, the reactions came from well beyond the walls of the cafe.
Jason said Edna stops by Cafe 212 nearly every day, though what time to expect her is anyone’s guess.
When she does roll in, she doesn’t ask for much. More often than not, Jason said, she wants to help out and chat with Amanda.
“Most mornings she goes to Saints’ Brew at All Saints’ in the morning, and just keeps on coming this way,” Jason said. “Edna doesn’t ask for a lot. She likes strawberries, and every now and then she’ll ask for a ham sandwich and a cup of soup. Edna takes the trash out and what not when we’re not looking, just to help out, not expecting anything in return.”
Jason said the couple couldn’t pinpoint a moment when their relationship with Edna became so conversational, but learned about their new friend in bits and pieces.
“She is good at reading lips, so it took us a year to figure out she was deaf,” Jason said. “I remember we were at the Salvation Army getting some food for her, and I was behind her talking to her back. She just gave no sign she’d heard me and I just thought, ‘Oh, she can’t hear.’”
When Amanda spotted her reading a newspaper, she saw she could communicate with Edna better through written word. Edna is a Tupelo native, they learned, and her mother still lives in the area. A few years ago, the duplex she was living in burned down, and she moved in with her mother for a short time before getting her own place again.
“She’s very independent,” Jason said. “She wants to do what she wants to do, and go where she wants to go.”
A few weeks ago, through exchanges of notes, Amanda asked Edna what was on her Christmas list.
“All she wrote was ‘bath towel,’” Amanda said. “The fact that she would be just as satisfied with a bath towel as anything in the world really makes you consider the way you think about the holiday yourself.”
Touched by Edna’s humble request, Amanda posted a photo of the exchange on Facebook, where it recieved hundreds of views.
“People flooded in to ask what they could get for Edna and bringing things in to the point where I’m like, ‘Edna’s good,’” Amanda said.
Of course, plenty of people brought towels. Across the street at Swirlz boutique, co-owner Kim Root got wind of the list, and offered to monogram the towel and other items free of charge.
As the gifts kept coming, Amanda began wrapping them and placing them under Cafe 212’s Christmas tree.
“She said she wants to unwrap one gift each day until Christmas,” Amanda said.
Root said Swirlz will present Edna with her monogrammed gifts on Monday, but they can’t compare to the blessings she has received from Edna.
“She’s kind of a downtown figure. She brings you joy just looking at her,” she said. “We have so much, and it really touches you to see someone who is happy with so little.”
For the Haydens, the response to Edna’s story is so appealing because it brings people back down to earth about the meaning of Christmas, a truth Jason said everyone knows, just forgets sometimes in the hustle and bustle of the holidays.
“It’s like posting that story opened a release valve inside people,” he said. “I think everyone has that inner urge to help someone. And I think it reminds us of our responsibility as a community to reach out to strangers and include everyone, to be aware of all the Ednas out there. All it takes is asking someone if they need anything.”
Amanda agreed, and said she had no intention of promoting any kind of gift drive for Edna, even after her friend’s story became known.
“I did nothing but post that picture,” she said. “It makes me very appreciative of a community that is willing to love somebody they don’t know.”