The Accidental Caregiver
She doesn’t know you. You don’t know her.
Yet every time you walk through her door she makes you feel as welcome as a port in a storm. She had no idea that when my friend, Art, and I walked into her restaurant that morning he was going through a storm - the second worst storm of his life.
The worst storm of his life was the day he was told he had cancer.
He beat it.
The second worst storm was the day he was told it was back.
We were in the gym when he told me.
“I’m gonna go drown my sorrows in a cup of coffee. Wanna join me?”
I did and, when we walked into the restaurant, the girl behind the counter smiled, like the morning might smile to see the sun, and said, “Mornin’, men! Grab a place to sit and I’ll be right there with the world’s best coffee.”
Art: “What makes it the world’s best coffee?”
“I do. When I’m making it I’m thinking that someone as good-lookin’ as you is gonna come in here and make my day so I wanna have a coffee ready that’ll make your day.”
Yeah, it was kind of cheesy but you had to smile.
A few others in the restaurant did. One lady just shook her head.
But she did it with a smile.
The girl came out from behind the counter, a coffee pot in one hand, stopping on the way to our booth to drop some coins into the juke box and press a few numbers. She was pouring our coffee when the music started …
Time can’t erase the memory of these magic moments
Art: “You don’t hear that every day.”
“I play it for Marty,” she half-whispered, cocking her head toward a man at the end of the counter. “He lost his wife a couple of years ago. That was one of their favorites. He smiles every time he hears it. Makes me feel good.”
And then she was gone filling coffee cups as she worked her way down the counter.
“I’m 79,” Art said. “This cancer thing … I don’t know if it’s worth the fight this time around. It might be smarter if I just told them …”
It was the counter girl, calling to a giant of a man just then walking in, ducking his head under the door. I met George Foreman once. This guy was bigger.
But not healthier.
He had braces on both legs and an oxygen mask over his face. The girl made no move to help him to what must have been his regular spot - a stool lower to the ground than the others and a counter top area wide enough for him to rest both elbows on - but she was right there waiting for him as he eased his way onto the stool.
“How’re you doin’, Jimmy? Are you famous yet?”
I couldn’t hear what he said to her but I had no trouble hearing her.
“Well, you just keep writin’ on it, Jimmy, and I know one day you’ll walk in here and give me my own autographed copy so I can tell people I knew you when.”
Perry Como was still singing. Marty was still smiling. I think the juke box gave you three songs for a dollar and I’m pretty sure the counter girl went with Magic Moments for all three picks.
She was working her way back to us for refills but stopped to whisper something into the ear of the lady who’d smiled and shook her head. She smiled and shook her head again.
“I beat it the first time, but who beats cancer twice?” Art was looking at me like he expected a life-changing answer.
“Seriously - who beats cancer twice?”
“I read about a guy in England that beat it three times and then went and climbed that mountain in Africa … Kiliman-something or other. “
Neither of us had noticed the counter girl standing next to our booth.
“If he can do it three times and climb a mountain, you …” she poked Art on the shoulder. “ … should be able do it two times with your eyes closed.”
We both just stared at her.
“And you can come in here every week until you’re done beating your cancer and tell me you’re still alive and I’ll give you a free cup of the world’s best coffee every time.”
According to research there are at least 40-million caregivers out there. Watching the counter girl walk back behind the counter I had to think - maybe 40-million and one.
I don’t know what’s going to happen with Art. I hope he fights. I hope he wins. I do know that when we left that little restaurant he was humming.
By: William McDonald/Author/Old Friends (Endless Love)
Available at: amazon.com