Mary Laughlin has always rolled with the idea that God’s plan is better than anything she could ever come up with.
The 62-year-old Moses Lake business woman is counting on that in the weeks and months to come with an impending double mastectomy on the way.
Growing up in the Heartland where a person can stand on their tiptoes and see Des Moines, Iowa almost, she always dreamed of living in the forest, with rolling hills and trees that reached up to touch the sky.
“I always wanted to live in those far-off mountains,” she said in a near-whisper.
Her journey took her from the flatlands of Iowa to the forests of the Yale Valley in Washington, where she bought a bed-and-breakfast overlooking Mount St. Helens in 1993 where she lived that dream for a short moment. The business venture proved to be a little too far ahead of its time, and her journey brought her here, back to the farmlands, where she opened Pop’s In & Out Drive-In on Valley Road.
Her eyes misted as she thought back to a time of doubt, but like the spirit of the Heartland where she grew up, her shoulders straightened, and she was ready to roll with God’s plan again.
“For the first six months when I moved here, I would take a walk in the afternoon just crying my eyes out thinking, ‘What am I doing here?’ ” she recalled, apologizing for the tears. “I remember it like it just was yesterday. My friend Artis Ballinger came through and saw me crying.
“I told her, ‘I don’t know why I’m here, but I know God has a purpose.’ She told me ‘Mary, give it a chance. Moses Lake people are the most supportive people you will ever know.’ ”
Maybe it was just a fleeting thought by a good friend, but she held dear to that moment over the next two decades.
Carry the spirit and the spirit will carry you.
The Yale Valley's loss became Moses Lake’s gain and Pop’s In & Out Drive-In became a fixture over the course of time. It wasn’t supposed to work. Building owner Dick Zornes had 13 tenants over the 10 previous years before Mary set up shop. He once told her he’d bulldoze the building and make it a parking lot if there was any money in it.
The first couple of months, the business averaged just $70 a day. But over time, people came to like Mary’s cooking. They got a hankering for her homemade cinnamon rolls and homemade brownies. Everything on the menu is homemade: the fry sauce, the burger spread, even the produce is cut fresh every day. She hates leaf lettuce on sandwiches so she gives it a custom cut in one direction, then the other way – shredded and shredded.
“Over the years, that’s been the one thing that hired or fired somebody working for me, was if they couldn’t cut the lettuce the way I like it,” she said with a laugh.
She turned her menu into a street map of Moses Lake, quite literally taking the names off a city map of places around town to make it all personal. Items like the Warrior burger, the Gorge burger and the bacon and cheese Basin burger turned into fan favorites along with the Valley Road Chili burger. She even has a Seahawk burger featuring a fried egg on any burger on the menu.
“I wanted it to relate to the egg in the face Seahawk opponents have when they lose.”
But Mary’s place ain’t just a burger joint. She serves up stuff like the Nothin’ Like It Oyster burger with four fried oysters on a bun, the Moses Lake fish sandwich and the Cascade Valley gyro. The menu board on the side of the building stretches eight feet in length with a little something for everyone, like the Chief Moses dinner salad or the Larry & Linda’s taco salad.
Mary Helen Laughlin made it personal and those people Artis talked about, what seems like a lifetime ago, responded with their business and their love.
“She was so right. When I developed this cancer, it’s been overwhelming the support I’ve gotten over the years,” Mary said. “I just know this is exactly why God wants me here. He knew exactly where I needed to be.”
Rodney Harwood is a staff writer for the Columbia Basin Herald and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.