Memory Lessons from Life’s Cafe

“Memory is a child walking along a seashore. You never can tell what small pebble it will pick up and store away among its treasured things.”

– Pierce Harris, Atlanta Journal

More and more my memory fails me. Ask my husband, my kids, my friend who went to a concert with me the other night. (“You were there?” I asked during my moment of temporary insanity.) The things I do remember seem to come from left field, those small, bizarre pebbles I must have picked up as a child – or in the following case, as a teenager. However, more and more I see that the things I do remember have a purpose. Its almost as if there was an angel sitting on my child-sized shoulder, whispering in my ear, “That motley one! Pick that one up! You’ll need it in 30 years.” Only the angel muttered the last part under its breath, so I never really knew why I picked up the pebble. Until now.
My daughter called the other night, rather discouraged with her new work in a trendy deli market. Her angst stoked my memory. I remembered my own job as a waitress in a small town restaurant. I was a teenager, a couple years younger than my daughter is now. The cooks, two tough broads, harassed me ceaselessly. I had no idea why I was the target of their incessant verbal abuse. I was a quick learner; I did a fairly decent job. I did forget to wear a slip under my dress one day, but I never saw how my increase in tips should have bothered them. There was also the time I spilled a bowl of soup in a guy’s lap. (He was a big city actor, in our neck of the woods with his troupe doing a performance at the request of our thriving Arts Council.) At least I was wearing a slip that day.
So, I made a couple of mistakes. Did it justify being mocked and berated every time I placed an order? I was just a shy kid trying to earn a buck. I was also a kid who was determined not to crumble under the harassment. I was determined to persevere, to prove myself. And I did. By the time I quit that job, I had those cooks eating out of my hand. Well, maybe not exactly, but they would at least sit at the same table with me and engage in civil conversation.
This story of perseverance, I thought, was the purpose of my memory. I encouraged my daughter to “hang in there,” prove what she’s made of. But even as I told her this, I was growing unsettled with my own answer. Perhaps the angel had returned to my adult shoulder and was shouting, “No, no! There’s something else.”
It was, as it turns out, maybe not about me. As I was telling my daughter about those two mean, crusty cooks, I remembered other things about them. They didn’t have the easiest of lives; one was well past the prime of life, the other was a struggling single parent. Those women needed compassion, they needed Jesus…just like the people my daughter works with – just like everybody.
As my daughter and I talked about this, I found myself hoping – hoping that she was picking up a memory to tell to her own daughter someday, and that maybe she’ll listen to the angel a little more closely than I did.

2 thoughts on “Memory Lessons from Life’s Cafe

  1. Sabrina, I really like this. It's so easy for us to think we know why certain things happen, only to realize that providence is multilayered. 🙂

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