Saturday, April 28, 2012
For the love of cheese...
Yesterday evening, I was at work waiting tables when a little family sat down in my station. The mother was middle-aged; she was so friendly, so polite and outgoing- but I could see the weariness in her eyes. I've read too many of your blogs to miss that look. Her daughter was about my age, the mirror of her mother, with long brown hair responsibly tied into a pretty braid. Her younger brother caught my attention. He was probably about 12, a handsome young man. "Hummm-mum-mum"... his crystal blue eyes evaded mine as I asked them each what they would like to drink. "Hummm mum mum..." His mother answered for him: "nothing for him, thanks". He stimmed softly along as his eyes stayed trained on his Gameboy, locked in a world all his own as a busy restaurant whirled around him.
I came back to take their order for dinner, and they politely ordered two meals: one for the mother, one for the daughter. I asked if the boy would like anything. Sheepishly, the mother blushed at me as she asked, "I don't suppose there's any chance you have a cheese stick back there...? It's all he really eats..." her voice trailed off as if she caught herself asking something insane. She shook her head, embarrassed, and chuckled. After all, it's a beautiful upscale waterfront restaurant... why on Earth would we have a cheese stick?
Years ago, I would have rolled my eyes about these nutty people asking me for a cheese stick in the middle of dinner rush... but because of Jess, and Jeneil, and the other people who share their stories, I knew that this wasn't just about a bratty kid or a cheap mom who only wanted a cheese stick. I was so busy; all of my tables were seated, but I'd be damned if that boy wasn't going to get a cheese stick. I asked my manager, who explained patiently what I already knew- we don't have any cheese sticks. Unfazed, I turned to a dear friend, who is also a line cook at the restaurant where I work. He was a trooper. Despite being plenty busy on the grill, he took a moment. Delicately, he took a big slice of Fontina and started rolling it. It was paper thin, and he rolled it so carefully. When he was finished, he passed me the plate - a perfect cheese stick laying in the center.
I brought it out with the other meals, unexpectedly. When she saw the cheese stick, the mother's face lit up. Her smile was like a warm hug; it was as if some of the heaviness of the day had been lifted from her. The boy made no acknowledgment, aside from his slender, pale hand floating up from the Gameboy to snatch the cheese. By the time I returned with another water for his sister, all that remained was the small plate that it had ridden to the table on. I wanted to give the mom some little nod, some signal that I 'got it', at least in a small way, indirectly; that I understood what had transpired and that she wasn't the bother that I could tell she felt like she was... but I didn't. Instead, I gave them a cheese stick... and that felt like enough said.