Snow was headed our way, the radio said, but that was nothing new in Minnesota.
I pulled my waitress uniform over my head and pinned on my name tag, looking forward to my shift at the restaurant. When I applied for the job I’d meant it to be temporary. But I found I really loved waitressing. The busyness was energizing, and I liked truly serving my customers. No matter what kind of day they’d had—dealing with family, jobs, whatever—now they could relax and let me handle things. While they were at my tables, they were in my care.
The snow started falling on my way in at 3:00 p.m. It was a storm all right. Things were so slow Cook and I sent the other waitress home. I refilled the salt and pepper shakers and wiped down the countertops. “Visibility is poor out there,” the announcer said over the radio. “Don’t leave home unless you absolutely have to.” I glanced out the window. It was really piling up out there.
“I’m glad our shift’s almost over,” I said. But with a half hour to go the husband and wife team who were meant to relieve us called in. They couldn’t make it in these conditions.
“We could close,” Cook suggested. “But then what about all those people who may get stranded?”
Folks in a storm needed shelter, something hot to eat and a friendly smile. “We have to stay open,” I said. As long as people needed me, I’d take care of them.
The snow fell all night, and the only people who came in the restaurant were folks who had no choice but to be out: snowplow drivers, taxi drivers and policemen.
“It feels good to pitch in during the storm,” I told Cook when I stopped by to pick up an order, “but I have to admit I can’t wait to go home.”
About 6:45 a.m. the phone rang. Cook answered. Her face fell as she listened. “Our relief can’t make it in,” she said, hanging up.
We’d been working 16 hours straight. Work eight more? God, that’s too much even for me, I thought. There was a hotel next to the restaurant, and the breakfast rush was one of our busiest times. Today it would be even busier: Most of those travelers would be stuck, thanks to the storm. Once again, we simply couldn’t close. “We’ll just have to push through,” I said.
In a few hours the place was packed, with twice as many customers as we usually got during the breakfast rush. Far too many for one waitress. People were irritable. Some were missing a family event or a work meeting back home.
Customers hailed me down from all directions. “Miss, could I get some more coffee?” “I’m still waiting for my silverware.” “May I order anytime soon?” “Check, please.”
I was doing my best, but it was too much. It was all I could do to get the food out to the right table while it was still hot. It had been 18 hours.
I got the silverware, the order and the check. I refilled the coffee and raced to the back of the kitchen to give Cook another order. “There’s a line for seats,” Cook said, flipping pancakes with one hand and scrambling eggs with the other. “You’d better bus those tables.”
“I did already!” I said, but when I turned to show her all I saw were messy tables. The ones I’d cleaned were full of new customers, already impatiently tapping their menus.
“I’d help if I could—” Cook said.
“I know,” I said. “I just wish there were more of us.”
“There’s no way on earth we are going to get help until those roads open up,” Cook said.
There was no time to commiserate. I headed back out to bus the tables that needed cleaning. Three new people sat down, two ladies and a gentleman. The dirty dishes would have to wait until I got their order.
“What can I get you?” I asked.
Instead of answering the gentleman looked at me seriously. “How long have you been working?”
“Since three o’clock yesterday afternoon. Does it show?”
“You look tired,” he said. “Can we clear off some tables for you?”
I started to say no. I was supposed to take care of the customers, not the other way around. But when I turned around I saw a dozen tables that needed clearing. The line to get a seat was getting longer.
“Yes,” I said, feeling a little funny about it. “I’d appreciate the help.” I wheeled over the dish cart so they had somewhere to put all those plates. “If you could just clear this one booth, I can handle the rest.”
Fifteen minutes later I came out of the kitchen and found the trio of strangers had cleared every table in the restaurant! I still had a big job ahead, but now I was ahead of the game. It was as if God had sent a trio of angels to put the smile back on my face.
After the helpful trio left, the help kept coming. Another waitress walked a mile in the snow to give us a hand. The store manager spent hours in his car driving in to help out. The customers got more patient as the storm continued.
I guess I was wrong when I assumed taking care of people was my job and mine alone. God helped me while I helped others, with as much enthusiasm for his job as I had for mine.
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