We took Mr. Restaurant Gal’s mother out to lunch for her 81st birthday.
Times are not good for her, and they are not getting better. They will only get worse. These are givens.
Times are hard for Mr. Restaurant Gal as he keeps careful track of his mother during these not-good times. It will only get tougher. This is a given.
But today was her birthday, and since she still knows us quite well and knew it was her birthday, we celebrated by taking her to a nearby restaurant. Nothing fancy, just a local upscale-casual chain. Simply getting her out was special enough for all of us.
I patiently answered the same questions about the kids five times in ten minutes. And again ten minutes later. We covered the weather pretty thoroughly. Mr. Restaurant Gal helped her navigate the book-like menu, then reminded her two more times what she had ordered.
During a lull, as she sipped her iced tea, Mr. Restaurant Gal’s mother watched as a server handed out menus to an adjacent table.
“You know,” she said as she took another sip of her tea, “I used to be a waitress.”
What? This was news to me. I glanced at Mr. Restaurant Gal. He nodded toward his mom.
“You were? Really?” I asked.
“Oh yes, for an entire summer when I was in high school,” she replied, all hesitancy gone from her voice.
“Did you like being a waitress?”
“You know, I did. It was actually a lot of fun. My best friend from high school and I went up north together and got jobs at this resort in the mountains.” She paused then, fumbling for something in her purse.
“Were the guests nice to you?” I asked, wanting very much to draw her back to one of the more coherent conversations we’d had in a long while.
She stopped worrying with her purse and looked at me. “Most of them were. You really got to know them while they were there for the week. Some were so polite and so kind.”
She smiled as she remembered, then added, “But some, look out!”
Ha! I know those types.
“Difficult customers, huh?” I smiled.
“Pretty tough. ‘Get me this. Get me that. I said, now!’” she laughed, mimicking these long-ago, yet universal customers. “Yes, some weren’t so nice.”
Believe me, I’ve met my share, I wanted to tell her. But that would only distract her. Instead I asked, “Did you make a lot of money in tips?”
“Well, some people tipped better than others. Most waited until the end of their week, then they gave a us a nice big tip.”
She took another sip of her drink. “Yes, I would say almost every customer tipped us well. I made a lot of money that summer, you know, for a teenager!”
The conversation lapsed as our lunch arrived. After we had sorted out the entrees among us, I was surprised again as Mr. Restaurant Gal’s mother continued: “They put us up in these dorms. Never charged us for room or board. Just let us make our money from tips. We had a lot of fun, all of us kids up there together like that.”
I tried hard to picture her as that vibrant teenager, waiting tables, having a blast with friends after her shift, living on her own all summer.
She took a bite of her crab cake, then turned to me and asked, “Have you ever worked in a restaurant?”
And so we were back to today, a time of nothing remembered for more than a moment.
Mr. Restaurant Gal and I exchanged a glance, a sad smile.
“Yes, Mom, she’s worked in a restaurant,” he winked at me. “Now and again.”
“Well, you might like it,” she told me. “I did.”
“I’m pretty sure I would, too,” I told her.
Now and again.