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My mother recently downsized from a house to a tiny apartment, and getting rid of everything she has accumulated over the years has been no easy task. So much stuff, so much useless stuff. We’re still trying to find nooks and crannies for all of the belongings she’s not ready to part with. I get it; it’s not easy getting older and heading down a path of less independence that downsizing is often the beginning of.

Anyway, in keeping with my own family’s “stuffless” tradition and in an effort to not burden her another useless thing, we offered to take her to a local holiday happening--complete with dancers and singers and fancily decorated Christmas trees--and then out to lunch. We had to be pretty middle of the road in our restaurant choice because small local eateries kick in her low tolerance for her definition of yick (any tats, piercings or dreds can set her off), and high-priced places (which I can’t afford anyway) cause her to complain about the cost between every mouthful—even when she’s not picking up the tab.  

The place we ended up going to triggers my low tolerance for bland, corporate food and not the best treatment of workers, but whatever. I kept it reined in for the day.  Besides, it’s mid-priced, pleasant enough, and has something for everybody. Located near a shopping mall, the place was jammed with holiday shoppers on a lunch break, and the waiters and bussers were in constant, hurried motion. We were seated quickly, and our waiter appeared within a minute or two.

In many ways, my mother has mellowed in her approach to people, so I had hopes. But like so many of my childhood holiday hopes, they were dashed within minutes. She had trouble navigating the menu so asked the waiter to help her. He gave a good answer to her question, and she promptly bit his head off for not answering whatever question it was that she thought she asked and basically, though not in exact words, told him he was an idiot.

People, do not blame this on age or send sympathy this woman’s way because of her 80 years. This has been her always. I butted in to her waiter abuse and ordered some coffee to start. My family followed suit, and our waiter shot me a quick smile of relief and hurried away to get the beverages. Brave man, he kept coming back to our table to do simple things like take our orders, deliver our food, and fill our water glasses, and every time, my mother snapped at the poor guy for something that he really didn’t do or couldn’t do.

My children graciously thanked him for everything. I’ve never insisted on manners, but I do my best to model them. I left the guy an unusually generous tip (I always tip at least the minimum, more if I’m able) with a note on the charge slip wishing him happy holidays and thanking him for his great service. I told the kids later (they were appalled at their grandmother’s behavior) that I’ve done that after dining out with their grandmother many times—even slipped back to the wait staff to apologize. I know I don’t have to go out with her at all, but families…Well, you know that the easy answers to family politics are never really the answers.

I think my mother suffers bitter disappointment over being born into a poor, working-class family and marrying a guy whose lack of money management skills matched hers. She has always behaved like someone who believes she should have been born an aristocrat, but must suffer. She worked for a living until she retired, but never waited a table or stood behind a counter filling orders and making change. I hear she was difficult to work for, not a supervisor you would wish on anyone.

My mother isn’t dead yet, but when she dies, I hope she returns to a life of waiting tables in an endlessly busy restaurant. I hope she has to experience what it’s like to be on the receiving end of people who make your working day difficult and top it off by leaving measly tips that don’t help your minimum wage (or less) financial situation. One person like that on your shift can ruin an otherwise fine day.

And I hope some kinder-hearted person who sees her being mistreated leaves her a nice tip and a note because somewhere in her life (many times in her life), she missed out not only on the chance to serve, but the chance to experience true appreciation. So I guess you can send sympathy her way for that. There’s always a back-story to explain the ornery people of this world whether waiter or waited upon.

The holidays can get crazy. Be kind to the people bringing you your food in the restaurants and swiping your charge cards in the stores. They don’t own the companies they work for—they’re just trying to make a living and stay sane like the rest of us during this overly-hyped, screwily misinterpreted season of giving.

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