IHOP: Encouragement on a plate

IHOP: Encouragement on a plate October 10, 2012

He didn’t know that we had spent an additional two hours waiting for the doctor, who was sidetracked by another patient at another hospital, likely another crisis.

He didn’t know that prior to the doctor’s appointment, I’d sat in a wheelchair, a warm blanket covering me, yellow plugs in my ears, as I held onto my mother’s ankle and shouted over the reverberating drum of the MRI that she was doing great, that she’d be just fine, that she needed to hang on just a little while longer.

She couldn’t hear me, holed up in the hallow of that magnetic field, eyes covered with Zoro’s black mask, yellow foam pushed up inside her ears, but I yelled it out anyway.

He didn’t know that the doctor had told us the radiation only minimally shrunk the tumors. That there was, thankfully, no additional bleeding, but that there was significant swelling around the lesions. Lesions. Six weeks ago they were brain tumors. Cancer spread from the lung to the brain. Now they are lesions. It sounds so much less threatening. Lesions are what you get when you fall and scrape your knees, your elbows. When does cancer quit being cancer and becomes instead a really ugly owie?

He didn’t know all that.

The waiter only knew that the bald woman sitting before him must be really hungry. “You want four slices of ham and two sausages or three slices of ham and three sausages?” he asked.

“Yes,” she said.

He looked at me. I smiled.

“If you want to trade out the pancakes on that dish I can substitute the gravy and biscuits for that,” he said.

“No,” Mama protested. “I want the pancakes and the biscuits.”

He looked at me. I smiled.

“So you want two eggs, three slices of ham, three sausages, two pancakes and a side order of biscuits and gravy?” he asked.

“Yes,” Mama answered.

He looked at me. I smiled.

“Super!” he said. “I got it. I got it. You’re a rock star.”

We hadn’t finished our first cup of IHOP coffee when he came back, plates stacked up to his biceps, laden with all the things Mama ordered.

“And I brought you some hot maple syrup,” he said, as he placed a warm pitcher of darkened nectar before her.

“Thank you,” she said.

I knew Mama wouldn’t eat a fifth of what she ordered. The biscuits and gravy wouldn’t suit her. Nobody makes better biscuits and gravy than Mama. She wanted her own but was willing to settle for whatever was available.

The waiter didn’t know how the steroids make her hungry or how the cancer suppresses the pleasure of eating. If he noticed her bald head and surely he must have, he didn’t let it faze him. He treated Mama like another hungry person in need of attention, in need of encouragement served on a plate.

“You need anything?”

“A glass of water,” she said and he rushed off to get it.

Fussing. That’s what he did. He fussed over Mama. In a good way. In that way of people who love their jobs and love the people they serve. In that way of people who always have a kind word to speak to others. In that way of people who live to serve. In that way that makes others leave a table not only full from the food but full of goodness, too.

He paid attention to all the details.

“Either of you want some Tabasco?” he said, stopping by the table, yet again, in an effort to please.

“No,” I said.

Mama’s mouth was full but she managed a “Thank you.”

He stopped by the table behind us to talk to a young father about parenting. He helped seat a family of five, switching spots when they decided a booth would work better than the table they were first offered.

He never rolled his eyes, or sighed audibly.

He just went about waiting on hungry people, cheerfully.

So cheerfully that I told the manger upon our leaving that I travel a lot, have been waited on by dozens and dozens but that that fellow, the waiter at IHOP,  had the best attitude I’ve ever come across.

I told the waiter that, too, of course. Told him that I thought he was one of the best in his field, the way he was so attentive to people, jovial and kind. It’s hard to encourage people, especially when they are hungry as horses, the way Mama was when we sat down. It was obvious that he cared about more than being a waiter. He cared about the people he was serving.

What about you? What are the ways you serve others that leaves you feeling the fullness of life?


Karen Spears Zacharias is author of A SILENCE OF MOCKINGBIRDS: The Memoir of a Murder.









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