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.
Martha Owens - September 24, 2021 2:05 pm
Thanks to the gentleman with the firm hand and gaze of steel, a young rude punk was taught an important lesson. There is no excuse for his treatment of the waitress.
Pamela Milligan - November 14, 2021 12:20 am
Martha, unfortunately I doubt it will change his behavior one bit. We’ve raised a generation of unfeeling, uncaring and rude individuals. When we “spared the rod, we definitely spoiled the child”.
joyful reader - September 24, 2021 2:06 pm
My grand is currently working at a transbridge ticket office…opening at 5:30 am & bringing home stories that curl my ears. Thankfully he’s behind bulletproof glass in a locked room but some of the insults hurled, peel paint from that door! Said the nice customers are rays of sun during the storm.
AlaRedClayGirl - September 24, 2021 2:07 pm
We all need to be sweet.
dianakinser55 - September 24, 2021 2:10 pm
Thank you for reminding everyone, both young and old, that it really takes no more effort to be sweet, both with our words and actions. I hope that young man will remember the kindness shown to him, undeserved but graciously given.
Martha Fondren - September 24, 2021 2:13 pm
Just so good.
Southern Girl - September 24, 2021 2:15 pm
Thank you, Sean, for reminding us that, although evil jerks walk this earth, so do angels who defend us again them, and that makes all the difference.
Paul McCutchen - September 24, 2021 2:18 pm
I am 69 and I have trouble tolerating loud, smart talking young people. They are the same people that are on their phones at a stop light and when the light turns green, and you wait and wait, a short beep on someone’s horn and they take off giving everyone the “single finger salute”.
Shelton A. - September 24, 2021 2:19 pm
God bless Mary and the gentleman who came to her rescue. But, most of all, God bless the angry and sad young man who took his anger out on Mary-he needs all the blessings he can get. Thanks for the reminder to be kind and sweet.
Linda Moon - September 24, 2021 2:23 pm
You already ARE, Sweetie.
missusmux - September 24, 2021 2:26 pm
We should all be armed with a “holster full of gentle words”. Be sweet . . . good advice.
Cindy - September 24, 2021 2:41 pm
One of your best!
Wait for it… – Virginia Belle - September 24, 2021 2:43 pm
[…] Waitress […]
Mary Morrison - September 24, 2021 2:44 pm
Mary Lucas - September 24, 2021 2:49 pm
Love this one in particular.
Cynthia Russell - September 24, 2021 2:52 pm
Thank You again, Sean… may you continue to be blessed & make me tear up every day & above all make me be a more thoughtful, better person.. Keep Letting God shine thru your words….
Lulu - September 24, 2021 2:57 pm
Lovely, lovely! Kindness is the aloe of friendships. I don’t know who said that but it is so true. I would hope that angry young man learned a lesson…thank you Sean for all your wonderful writings. You are a sweetie…first class. Hugs to you, Jamie and your dogs.
Karen Snyder - September 24, 2021 2:58 pm
Thank heaven for the heroes.💙 There’s NO excuse for that kind of ugly. Ever! It’s heartbreaking the unnecessary hurt anger can inflict on bystanders, but saddest might be the damage such anger will do to the one who harbors it. So, I hope that young man, once calmed down, will reflect and learn from his encounter with Mary’s hero.
Stacey Wallace - September 24, 2021 3:07 pm
Sean, thank you for writing such wonderful pieces. I’m so glad that the older man stepped in to help Miss Mary. I’m very disappointed in the young man . He obviously didn’t have any home training. Not only was he hateful to Miss Mary; he didn’t thank the man for paying for his meal . I sincerely hope God changes his heart.
Judy Spence - September 24, 2021 3:26 pm
Sean, you have a lovely mother!
Helen De Prima - September 24, 2021 3:48 pm
To make the story perfect, the real gentleman would have included a hefty tip. Probably did.
Teresa Larkins - September 24, 2021 4:34 pm
Love this! Thanks for making my day!
Anita Smith - September 24, 2021 4:42 pm
In everything you have written I have seen your kind, gentle, sweet heart. Thank you for sharing it with us.
Christina - September 24, 2021 4:44 pm
I was feeling my blood boil, but thank you for reminding us that kindness is aways better. Bless all the Marys and all you sweet souls.
Judy - September 24, 2021 5:00 pm
Sean, you are the sweetest and that is why we love your writing. I am one of those white haired ladies and I just want this vapor gun that makes people disappear,no evidence , no noise. So I really need to work on my sweet side!
Bill Harris - September 24, 2021 6:30 pm
Thank you Sean. God bless Mary.
Liza - September 24, 2021 8:27 pm
I’m betting Mary’s day improved after that! And that everyone let her know how much they appreciated her!
Peggy ALEXANDER - September 24, 2021 8:30 pm
The Bible says in Proverbs 15:1 that a soft answer turneth away wrath but grievous words stirs up anger. Both sweet soft spoken Mary and the older gentlemen both did the right thing and I pray that the young man thinks about it for a long time
Scott - September 24, 2021 10:53 pm
You have a very real knack for writing, a niche I’ve never encountered before. Just about all of your stories bring a tear to my eye. I’ve found as I grow older that I am more affected by circumstances, have more connection to others. God bless you for you work.
Cindy Foster - September 25, 2021 12:09 am
We encountered the same thing today at the big box store when an angry old ( not in years) woman took all her anger out on the cashier. No, we assured the cashier that her anger was not her fault nor was it her fault that she was angry!! Some folks are selfish and must have their say…
As Peggy said, I hope that young man thinks about his actions for a long time.
Jan Werbish - September 25, 2021 4:12 am
Wonderful , what a talented writer you are. Thank you for sharing !
Te - September 25, 2021 10:35 am
You will always be the kindest person with soft words and respect, especially for any woman named “Mary.” Karma is a bitch with a mean sense of humor, but only towards the people who earn it.
Ann - September 25, 2021 12:14 pm
God bless the sweet ones…kindness will win..eventually …over anger and meanness 🙏🏻
Kathy - September 25, 2021 7:41 pm
We just keep trying.
Latane Barton - September 26, 2021 6:54 pm
You are a sweet man. You make me smile, or cry, or think, or wonder (whatever the story calls for) every single day. I look forward to reading your stories and feeling better, more alive, more thoughtful. I am 87 years old and a smile means a lot to me these days.
Lila Bannister - September 27, 2021 2:24 am
I love your column! Being a displaced Southerner in Wisconsin, your column brings back so many memories & so many smiles. Thank you!