Christmas morning used to be an exciting time with dishes rattling in the kitchen and family chattering in every room. Christmas 2015 at my twin’s home was as quiet as the legendary church mouse with the TV on closed caption and both of us checking our emails without our hearing aids in place. With back pain for both of us, hers worse than mine, cooking dinner was a chore to be avoided.
Mid-afternoon I drove us a couple miles to a small, older Denney’s tucked between a gas station and a motel. Only a few tables were occupied. After a long wait, a frowning man dashed out from the kitchen and cleared a table before hurrying back toward us.
“Can we sit in the other section away from the Juke Box?” my twin asked.
Frustration crossed the man’s face. “I’ll turn it down,” he said and left us standing. He returned minutes later and led us to the closest booth. “Someone will be right with you,” he said and trotted back to the kitchen. His mood screamed Bah, Humbug!
The wall clock mounted above the doorway to the restrooms ticked away the minutes. Five. Six. Seven. A server in a Santa hat hesitated at our table. No smile. No introduction. No menu. “I’ll be right with you,” she said and kept on walking. Eight. Nine. Ten. She reappeared with two menus. “I’ll be right back to take your order.” The second right back turned into another ten minutes.
Near the end of our pot roast meal—a first for me at Christmas—the silent server plopped our bill on the table and moved on. I puzzled over the tip. Should I or shouldn’t I?
A man dressed in a snow jacket with a dark watch cap pulled down over his ears stopped at our table. A pleasant smile topped his scruffy beard. His eyes lit up as though he recognized me from long ago. He leaned down toward me and whispered, “Have a merry Christmas dinner.” He tossed a folded $5 dollar bill over my credit card, stood straight, and made a quick about face toward the front exit. The five unfolded in slow motion and revealed a twenty tucked inside.
“What was that all about?” my twin asked. “Do you know him?”
“Never saw him before. I don’t know where he came from.”
“He was with that group of men who sat at the booth behind you. They’ve all been standing outside so long,” she said, “I thought they were a homeless bunch eating here for the two-dollar special.”
The smiling stranger reminded me that one person can make a difference. I shook off the staff’s Bah, Humbug! attitude and passed on his spirit of Christmas with a generous tip for the disgruntled server.