People: Log Cabin Shell's Darlene Chambers

November 29, 2004|HERB BROCK

Every weekday morning on my way to work I stop at a local convenience store for my daily fix - a frothy, crunchy, chilled mound of flavored syrup-infused ice crystals known alternately as a slushie, slurpy and snowy. It's a sweet and cool concoction that soothes a stomach hit hard by daily bombardment from a bunch of pills.

But I faced a crisis a few mornings ago. The slushie machine was down. I went from one convenience store to another, sweating and swerving in traffic with the desperation of an addict, but the first two stores I visited had no slushie machines.

Soon there would be relief. I swung open the door at the Log Cabin Shell at Main Street and Stanford Road, and there it was - a big, beautiful slushie machine, with one side churning strawberry-flavored ice and the other a blueberry-looking slush. Tears came to my eyes.


Behind the counter was a woman whose cheery chatter really can break the ice. Darlene Chambers serves up sunshine with everything from sausage and biscuits to slushies and tickets.

"Good mornin'. You on your way to work?" she asked as I practically yanked the slushie machine off the wall. "Beautiful mornin'. And that means you're going to have a good day at work."

I wasn't going to have a good day, but chances for that occurring were significantly increased.

"Hey, guys. You all ready for work?" Chambers said to three construction workers entering the store. "You gotta work if you're gonna eat. How 'bout some sausage and biscuit or a plate of eggs and bacon?"

While going back to the deli to plate up their orders, Chambers received a verbal bouquet from an old retiree as he was leaving. "See ya, beautiful," said the man tipping an old, tattered baseball cap toward Chambers.

"Thanks, honey. But even I'm gonna be old and ugly, pretty soon," said the 57-year-old Boyle County native.

A woman came in the store and made a beeline to the coffee machine. But she wasn't swift enough to escape Chambers' attention. "How's your father, honey?" said Chambers, handing the woman a tiny plastic container of cream.

"Little better," the woman said, her frown turning into a small smile.

A young man with a baby came to the counter with a couple of soft drinks and some snacks.

"That'll be $8.21, sweetie," Chambers says, then turns her attention to his baby. "I bet you're cold, little thing. Let me rub some sun into that little face of yours. Now you're a-glowin'."

Customers start arriving at 5:15 a.m.

Customers start arriving at 5:15 a.m. and keep the door swinging starting at 6 a.m. As the traffic slows, Chambers takes a couple of minutes to chat with her slushie addict.

"My motto is, treat people the way you want to be treated and everything will be all right for you and the people you come in touch with," she said, adding that most of the people that she touches at the Log Cabin Shell are construction workers, factory workers, downtown office workers, city employees and school teachers.

But even Chambers admits that living up to that motto can be tough some days. "I guess you'd say I'm cheerful by nature but it's sometimes hard to be cheerful when some people are just so grumpy. You can't make them happy, no matter what," she said. "And sometimes I may be tired or not feeling well.

"But if I can breathe and my hearts beatin', I will do my best to put on a happy face."

I wasn't smiling when I heard Chambers' schedule, though. She works from 2:45 a.m. to about 1 p.m., Monday through Friday, getting to the store early to start preparing sausage, bacon, tenderloin, country ham and bologna for breakfast, and cold sandwiches and soup for lunch. And on four of those five days, she cleans houses and offices after she leaves the convenience store.

Chambers, one of eight children of the late Henry and Margaret Chambers, has been working since 1968. She left Boyle County High School and got a job at the old Gem Supply Store.

A variety of jobs

She later held jobs at the old Rose's Department Store, Boyle Pharmacy and Southern Dollar in Danville, Bennett's grocery in Burgin and the dietary department at Ephraim McDowell Regional Medical Center. She's worked at the Log Cabin Shell for the last 10 years, plus operating her independently-owned cleaning service.

She's also squeezed motherhood into her busy schedule, raising her only child, from a previous marriage, Alan Shepherd, now 28.

"It's been a busy life, but I enjoy work and I love people," said Chambers. "And I'm going to continue doing this 'til I can't handle a skillet or wear a smile."

Peggy Underwood, a longtime customer who has become a friend, hopes that is many years from now.

"Darlene is an absolute dear," Underwood said.

"You might come in here a little down and not looking forward to the day, and then she makes you feel better. She brightens your day. She's like a little ray of sunshine. She always has something sweet to say."

And that "something sweet to say" actually tastes better than that something sweet she serves.

I'll take a cup of Chamber's radiant sunshine over a cup of melted snow any day.

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