“Hi, my name is Cori, and I will be your server tonight. Can I start you off with something to drink?”
Slowly she looked up. She was in her middle seventies, a regular here at the Bubble & Squeak, a British-style restaurant in the heart of Michigan.
“Oh, just an iced tea, thank you dear,” she said softly.
“Ok, coming right up.” I went over to the teapot, poured a glass, got the straw and lemon slice, and walked on back to the table.
As I approached, I noticed she was hunched over, not even looking at the menu.
Hmm, she must know the menu off by heart already! I bet she orders the Chantilly Chicken. I know it’s her favorite.
“Here you go,” I cheerily said, placing the drink on the napkin and putting the straw next to it. “Are you ready to order, or do you need a couple more minutes?”
She didn’t respond, so I looked more carefully at her. On closer inspection, her mascara was smudged, and she looked oh-so-tired.
“What’s the matter? Are you all right?”
She shook her head, but whether to say yes or no, I wasn’t sure. I did something that was “verboten” by the owner of the restaurant — I sat across the table from her and reached out to touch her hand.
The second I touched her tears flowed. She put her hand in front of her mouth trying to stem them. I silently handed her a napkin, which she took gratefully. “Ma’am, what’s wrong?”
The words tumbled out over on top of one another. She had rushed her husband to hospital earlier that day, because he passed out. Despite the hospital’s best efforts, he didn’t make it.
This all happened a few short hours ago. She left the hospital, and needed something to drink, and possibly eat. “Bubble” is the closest, no, the only restaurant in the area. She came to familiar territory.
She had yet to go home and phone the family — daughter, son and grandchildren. Everything had happened so fast, she hadn’t contacted anyone, and no one knew anything was wrong. She was mustering up the courage to phone her family and let them know that after 56 years of marriage her best friend, their father and grandfather was gone.
I held her hand, and she talked about what a fine man he was. How gentle and kind he was, about how hard he’d worked and was now enjoying his retirement with the grandkids.
After a few minutes, she collected herself, and looked up as if realizing for the first time where she truly was. “Oh, my dear, I am sorry. I’m sure you have work to do. Please don’t let me hold you up. You must have other tables.”
I patted her hand, and stood up. “It’s ok,” I told her, “I’m here to serve. And I do whatever it takes to keep my customer happy.”
She smiled and gave me her order — Chantilly Chicken. It was, after all, her favorite.