She is a waitress here. She has white hair, and a habit of winking when she smiles. Her name is Mary. I know this because it’s on her nametag.
I don’t know Mary—today’s the first time we’ve met—but I want to be her forever-grandson.
I just watched Mary get dog-cussed.
It happened when she swiped a young man’s credit card at the register. It was denied. She was quiet and discreet with him.
He shouted at her, “Run it again, lady!”
This made everyone’s ears perk up. It’s not every day you see some punk yelling at Barbara Bush.
She swiped the card. Denied.
“Do you have another card?” she asked in a soft voice.
The man shouted, “Another card? Don’t treat me like I’m @#$ing stupid, lady!”
Her mouth fell open. So did everyone’s.
The young man didn’t stop. He went on to say things which I can’t repeat—my mother reads these things.
The air in the restaurant went stale, like in old Westerns, just before John Wayne pumps some desperate bandito into the everlasting abyss.
The customers in the restaurant looked around at each other. The man in the booth beside me stood. So did I. We walked toward the register.
But another man beat us to it.
He was tall, white-haired. He wore a tattered cap. He was older, mid-seventies, with shoulders broader than an intercostal barge.
The old man said, “What seems to be the problem over here?”
The angry kid spat, “My card won’t work.”
The old man let his eyes do his talking. Hard eyes. The same eyes I’ve seen in a hundred Westerns, just before the hero draws a greased Colt Single Action Peacemaker and opens the gates of Armageddon.
The old man was calm. He reached for his wallet. He said to Mary, in a syrupy voice, “I’d like to pay for this gentleman’s meal, ma’am.”
Then, he placed a large hand on the gentleman’s shoulder. He massaged it.
I remember my father giving me the same kinds of shoulder grips long ago, just before he’d explain why I’d be going off to bed without supper.
The old man stared at the kid. He said more with a smile than I can say in five hundred words.
“Be sweet,” he told the young man. “Okay son?”
The kid left the restaurant, climbed into an oversized truck, and rolled out of the parking lot.
Those of us inside smiled at Mary. And if I were a betting man, I’d bet she earned a pocketful of good tips that day.
Mary gathered my dirty plates. I made a light remark, and hoped for one of her smiles—maybe a wink. But she wasn’t in the winking mood.
I’ve thought about her all day. And I’ve also thought about the angry people in this world—and how many they hurt.
And I’ve thought about men in tattered ball caps, with big hands, who refuse to tolerate ugliness, no matter how rampant. Men who have a holster full of gentle words, and aren’t afraid to use them.
I hope I can be one of those men.