© 2022 Robert Sickles
It was my evening to look after two of our grandsons, and I promised we’d go out for burgers, a rare treat in this family! So rare, in fact, that I wasn’t sure where to go for the best burger I'd promised the boys.
“Guys, let’s just go to the Black Bear Diner, I’ve never eaten there, but it’s nearby and I’m sure they have all the standards on their menu.” I Googled it: they had forest-log cabin décor, chainsaw art bears, bear murals and bear-theme dishes on the menus. The kids would be entertained.
Hmm. When we entered, the Black Bear looked like it was in decline—outdated, run down, and not very many customers. But the kids were hungry and it was past the point of going somewhere else, so they boys ran to a big booth and I signaled to the waiter that we’d seated ourselves.
I noticed duct tape patching the seat vinyl. Then I detected the sticky carpet below our table. A large family across the room, four small kids, two in highchairs was just finishing up and I commented “That big group… I hope they leave a tip on the table, just look at the clean-up job.” My grandsons were too absorbed with the colorful bear-theme menus to notice anything else.
The waiter, a school-aged guy, took our order and came back with the large Cokes the boys requested. The 11-year-old promptly knocked his over and it flowed across the table and onto the seat and floor. “Not a problem,” the waiter assured, “did you want me to bring you another?” Which he did. And soon after, it got dumped on the floor as well. I made eye contact with the waiter and made a subtle "uh-uh" face before he had a chance to say he'd bring a third large Coke.
“You’re not spilling your drinks on purpose, right?” Of course, I was joking. Then I thought this could be a teaching moment. “Hey, guys, how hard do you think this waiter works, for how many hours, in what conditions, and for what kind of pay?” It should have been fine to leave it at that, and listen to their ideas. But “wise” old me wanted to make sure they saw things “clearly.” So I explained, “For starters, he has to crawl under our table and mop up our Cokes. Look at the manager, doing nothing but flirting with the girl working at the counter. Look at that mess the big family left on their table. Our waiter is doing all the work, probably for minimum wage and skimpy tips. I bet he’d rather be working anywhere else.” I’d laid it all for them, and waited expectantly for the kids to see my point and agree with me.
The younger boy spoke up. “Grandpa, a job is a job, even if you don’t like it, you can choose to be grateful for it.”
OK, this caught me off guard. Maybe the kid needed a little more of my explaining. “But look at the condition of the place. It’s worn out and uninviting. Even if the food’s good, there’s no one here but us, and it’s dinner hour. No customers, no tips.” I thought to myself, “OK kids, do you see what I'm driving at?”
Again, from the 9-year-old: “The waiter could be happy… the job might be exactly what he wants… you don’t know.”
The 11-year-old added, “Yeah, a guy can decide to be happy or not, whatever they’re doing, Grandpa. You shouldn’t judge.”
All right, I felt I still had to drive my point. “This is not like a “career,” you know, our waiter must have plans or hopes beyond this. Even a manager here doesn’t earn a good living.”
The little guy rolled his eyes, and said, “It doesn’t matter, Grandpa. If a job is worth doing, it’s worth doing right.” I realized they’d had enough of my “explaining,” and the little wise ones went about trying to handle their giant hamburgers.
In the middle of the meal, I had a lightbulb moment. What was I trying to do? Convince the kids that I was oh-so-wise? Discourage the boys from ever wanting to get a job? And countering their positive comments with my cynical “yeah, buts?" Tsk-tsk, Robert! I suddenly shifted from “what do these kids know?” to “holy crud, I’m such a moron.”
We finished our meals and started to leave the table, when my older grandson spoke up. “Grandpa, did you leave enough tip? I think it’s not enough. Put more, please.”
Wow, that was something! I was proud! In spite of me, our dinner conversation looked like it was a useful lesson for all of us. When I asked them what their favorite part was, they both said it was the bear puns on the kids’ menu. Oh, well... kids. I hope I never forget the lessons learned at the Black Bear Diner!
[Teachers and saviors are all over the place. They can be obvious like a coach, professor or minister. They also come disguised as waiters, wives, bus drivers, beggars, or grandchildren. I’ve come to accept the fact that in so many ways, I know very little compared to my younger family members. It’s like… the more I know, the more I know I don’t know.
And maybe that prophesy is true, that there’s a quickening in this new age: wisdom which used to take a lifetime to grasp comes early for our children. Be alert if there’s a child near you, my elder friends, watch, listen and learn.]
Sorry, I have to go, it’s time to study up for my next lessons, I have a great-grandson who will be talking soon!
[Black Bear Diner is a popular family-fare restaurant chain that operates in 14 Western States. I have every reason to believe they're fun place to work and that diners enjoy the food and fun. The one near us closed permanently shortly after we ate there.]