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 name tag. 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 cussed out. It happened when she swiped a young man’s credit card at the register. It was denied. She was quiet and discreet with him, but he wasn’t thrilled.
He shouted at her, “Run it again!”
This made everyone’s ears perk up. It’s not every day you see some punk yelling at Gram Gram.
She swiped the card.
“Do you have another card?” she asked in a soft voice.
The man shouted, “Another card? Don’t treat me like I’m [bleeping] stupid, lady!”
Her mouth fell open. So did everyone’s. The young man didn’t stop there. He went on to say things which I can’t repeat since my mother reads these things.
The air in the restaurant went stale, like in old Westerns, just before John Wayne sends 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 were walking toward the register, but another man beat us to it.
He was tall, white-haired. He wore a tattered cap. He was mid-seventies, with shoulders broader than an intercostal barge and food stains on his plaid shirt.
The old man said, “What seems to be the problem here?”
The angry kid spat. “It’s nothing. My card won’t work.”
The old man let his eyes do his talking. They were hard eyes. The same eyes I’ve seen in a hundred episodes of “Gunsmoke,” just before the hero gets the girl.
The old man was calm. He reached for his wallet. He said in a syrupy voice, “Mary, I’d like to pay for this gentleman’s meal, if that’s okay with you.”
Then, he placed a large hand on the gentleman’s shoulder. And he massaged this shoulder. Firmly.
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 with a tractor-beam gaze. He said more with that gaze than I can say in five hundred words.
“Be sweet,” he told the young man.
The kid left the restaurant, climbed into an oversized truck, cranked up his stereo to a volume loud enough to break plate glass, and rolled out of the parking lot on two wheels.
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, hoping for one of her smiles—maybe a wink. But she wasn’t in the winking mood. And I’ve been thinking about her all day. And I’ve also thought about the angry people in this world—and how many innocent folks they hurt.
Also, 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.
But most of all, I hope I can be sweet.