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     THIS WEEK'S THOUGHT

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"Something For Stevie"
 
I try not to be biased, but I had my doubts about hiring Stevie.
His placement counselor assured me that he would be a good,
reliable busboy. But I had never had a mentally
handicapped employee and wasn't sure I wanted one.  I wasn't sure how
my customers would react to Stevie.
 
He was short, a little dumpy with the smooth facial
features and thick-tongued speech of Down syndrome.  I wasn't
worried about most of my trucker customers because
truckers don't generally care who buses tables as long as
the meatloaf platter is good and the pies are homemade.
 
The four-wheeler drivers were the ones who concerned me;
the mouthy college kids traveling to school; the yuppie
snobs who secretly polish their silverware with their napkins
for fear of catching some dreaded "truckstop germ;" the pairs of
white shirted business men on expense accounts who think every
truckstop waitress wants to be flirted with.
 
I knew those people would be uncomfortable around Stevie
so I closely watched him for the first few weeks.
 
I shouldn't have worried.  After the first week, Stevie
had my staff wrapped around his stubby little finger, and within
a month my truck regulars had adopted him as their official
truckstop mascot.  After that, I really didn't care what
the rest of the customers thought of him.  He was like a
21-year-old in blue jeans and Nikes, eager to laugh and
eager to please, but fierce in his attention to his duties.
  Every salt and pepper shaker was exactly in its place,
not a bread crumb or coffee spill was visible when Stevie got
done with the table.  Our only problem was persuading
him to wait to clean a table until after the customers
were finished.  He would hover in the background, shifting his
weight from one foot to the other, scanning the dining
room  until a table was empty.  Then he would scurry to the
empty  table and carefully bus the dishes and glasses onto cart
and meticulously wipe the table up with a practiced flourish
of his rag.  If he thought a customer was watching, his brow
  would pucker with added concentration.  He took pride
  in doing his job exactly right, and you had to love how
  hard he tried to please each and every person he met.
 
  Over time, we learned that he lived with his mother, a
  widow who was disabled after repeated surgeries for
  cancer.  They lived on their Social Security benefits in
  public housing two miles from the truckstop. Their
  social worker, which stopped to check on him every
  so often, admitted they had fallen between the cracks.
  Money was tight, and what I paid him was the probably
  the difference between them being able to live together
  and Stevie being sent to a group home.
 
  That's why the restaurant was a gloomy place that
  morning last August, the first morning in three years
  that Stevie missed work.  He was at the Mayo
  Clinic in Rochester getting a new valve or something
  put in his heart.  His social worker said that people
  with Down syndrome often had heart problems at
  an early age so this wasn't unexpected, and there
  was a good chance he would come through the
  surgery in good shape and be back at work in a
  few months.
 
  A ripple of excitement ran through the staff later
  that morning when word came that he was out of
  surgery, in recovery and doing fine. Frannie, my
  head waitress, let out a war hoop and did a little
  dance in the aisle when she heard the good news.
  Belle Ringer, one of our regular trucker customers
  stared at the sight of the 50-year-old grandmother
  of  four doing a victory shimmy beside his table.
  Frannie blushed, smoothed her apron and shot
  Belle Ringer a withering look.
 
  He grinned.  "OK, Frannie, what was that all about?"
  he asked.
 
  "We just got word that Stevie is out of surgery and
  going to be okay."
 
  "I was wondering where he was.  I had a new joke
  to tell him.  What was the surgery about?"
 
  Frannie quickly told Belle Ringer and the other two
  drivers sitting at his booth about Stevie's surgery,
  then sighed.
  "Yeah, I'm glad he is going to be OK," she said
  "but I don't know how he and his Mom are going
  to handle all the bills.  From what I  hear, they're
  barely getting by as it is."
 
  Belle Ringer nodded thoughtfully, and Frannie
  hurried off to wait on the rest of her tables.
 
  Since I hadn't had time to round up a busboy
  to replace Stevie and really didn't want to
  replace him, the girls were busing their own
  tables that day until we decided what to do.
 
  After the morning rush, Frannie walked into
  my office.  She had a couple of paper napkins
  in her hand a funny look on her face.
 
  "What's up?" I asked.
 
  "I didn't get that table where Belle Ringer and
  his friends were sitting cleared off after they
  left, and Pony Pete and Tony Tipper were
  sitting there when I got back to clean it off,"
  she said, "This was folded and tucked under
  a coffee cup."
 
  She handed the napkin to me, and three $20 bills
  fell onto my desk when I opened it.  On the
  outside, in big, bold letters, was printed
  "Something For Stevie".
 
  "Pony Pete asked me what that was all about,"
  she said, "so I told him about Stevie and his
  Mom and everything, and Pete looked at Tony
  and Tony looked at Pete, and they ended up
  giving me this."
 
  She handed me another paper napkin that had
  "Something For Stevie" scrawled on its outside.
  Two $50 bills were tucked within its folds.
 
  Frannie looked at me with wet, shiny eyes,
  shook her head and said simply "truckers."
 
  That was three months ago.  Today is
  Thanksgiving, the first day Stevie is
  supposed to be back to work.  His
  placement worker said he's been counting
  the days until the doctor said he could work,
  and it didn't matter at all that it was a holiday.
  He called 10 times in the past week, making
  sure we knew he was coming, fearful that we
  had forgotten him or that his job was in
  jeopardy.  I arranged to have his mother
  bring him to work, met them in the parking
  lot and invited them both to celebrate his
  day back.
 
  Stevie was thinner and paler, but couldn't
  stop grinning as he pushed through the
  doors and headed for the back room
  where his apron and busing cart were waiting.
 
  "Hold up there, Stevie, not so fast," I said.
  I took him and his mother by their arms.
  "Work can wait for a minute.  To celebrate
  you coming back, breakfast for you and your
  mother is on me."
 
  I led them toward a large corner booth at the
  rear of the room. I could feel and hear the
  rest of the staff following behind as we
  marched through the dining room.  Glancing
  over my shoulder, I saw booth after booth
  of grinning truckers empty and join the
  procession.
 
  We stopped in front of the big table.  Its
  surface was covered with coffee cups,
  saucers and dinner plates, all sitting slightly
  crooked on dozens of folded paper napkins.
 
 "First thing you have to do, Stevie, is clean up
  this mess," I said. I tried to sound stern.
 
  Stevie looked at me, and then at his mother,
  then pulled out one of the napkins.  It had
  "Something for Stevie" printed on the outside.
  As he picked it up, two $10 bills fell onto the
  table. Stevie stared at the money, then at all the
  napkins peeking from beneath the tableware,
  each with his name printed or scrawled on it.
 
  I turned to his mother.  "There's more than
  $10,000 in cash and checks on that table,
  all from truckers and trucking companies that
  heard about your problems.
  Happy Thanksgiving."
 
  Well, it got real noisy about that time, with
  everybody hollering and shouting, and there
  were a few tears, as well.  But you know
  what's funny?  While everybody else was
  busy shaking hands and hugging each
  other, Stevie, with a big, big smile on his face,
  was busy clearing all the cups and dishes from
  the table.  Best worker I ever hired.

 

 

FOR  MORE   THOUGHTS  CHECK  OUT "YOUR THOUGHT" AND ARCHIVE PAGES  AND  DON'T  FORGET  TO LOOK OVER  MY WEEKLY COLUMN.

 

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