Jessie started her waitressing job at the local restaurant on her first day, and she was already facing an unusual assignment. “Okay, Jessie, since you’re the new girl around here, you’ll have to take table 13,” her co-worker Mark informed her as she adjusted her apron.
The restaurant was most crowded during lunch hours, and Jessie had taken mental notes about her customers to make a good impression. But when she turned towards table 13, a sense of foreboding washed over her. Her fellow server Mark noticed her reaction and warned her, “Be prepared; that’s Mr. Norton. He’s known to be difficult. None of us like to serve him.”
With unwavering confidence, Jessie replied, “I can handle anything.” However, she soon realized that dismissing Mark’s words so easily was a mistake. Mr. Norton, seated at the table, appeared to be an ordinary elderly man.
As Jessie approached the table with a friendly smile, Mr. Norton scoffed, “Who are you?”
Jessie maintained her cheerful demeanor, “I’m Jessie. What would you like to drink today?”
In a gruff tone, Mr. Norton responded, “I always have the same thing, and you ask me that every time. Iced tea, but not too cold or too sweet, two lemon wedges, and a straw.”
Jessie made a note of his preferences and continued, “Certainly. And what would you like for lunch?”
Mr. Norton replied abruptly, “Not yet, go away, and bring me my iced tea.”
Confused by his curt behavior, Jessie fetched the iced tea, noting his unique preferences. Mr. Norton was incredibly particular, first complaining that it was too sweet, then too cold. His lemon wedges didn’t have enough juice, and even his straw was a cause for dissatisfaction.
Jessie attempted to explain that they now used paper straws, but Mr. Norton remained dissatisfied. “Fine, I want the lasagna,” he grumbled, tossing the menu onto her tray.
Despite Jessie’s unwavering smile, she couldn’t help but find the situation challenging. Mr. Norton’s pickiness had extended the time he spent at the table. By the time he finally finished his meal, six other families had been served.
After her first day of serving Mr. Norton, Jessie confided in Mark, “I should have listened to you.”
Mark chuckled, “We’re sorry, but someone has to deal with him.”
Nonetheless, Jessie refused to let one difficult customer dampen her spirits. She was doing this job for her kids, five of them waiting at home. Her husband Bob worked long hours to support the family, but it wasn’t always enough. Jessie had returned to work to provide a better life for her children, thanks to her mother, who had graciously offered to watch the younger ones while she worked.
Nevertheless, Jessie was exhausted upon returning home each night, leaving her with little time for her children. She made a promise to herself to do better in spending time with her kids, but every day was more trying and demanding. Serving Mr. Norton and dealing with other customers made her job more challenging than when she was younger.
Yet, despite the hardships, she took solace in the generous tips she received. Over the years, she continued to serve Mr. Norton, and something about her patient attitude impressed her colleagues. Though he could be gruff and demanding, she learned to be patient and even discovered snippets about his life. Despite his frequent complaints, Mr. Norton always left a generous 15 percent tip.
However, one day, when Jessie went to collect Mr. Norton’s tip, she found a note instead. It read, “Dear Jessie, thank you for enduring this old grump for so long. I am going to a special hospice facility, and I won’t be returning. Here’s the key to my house – it’s yours. I’ll leave my lawyer’s card so you can officially arrange everything. Goodbye, dear. P.S. My tea was too sweet, but I didn’t complain. My time is coming.”
Jessie was in disbelief. Why would he leave his house to a stranger? Did he have no family? She decided to contact his lawyer to inquire about the hospice facility to get some answers. When she visited him, she found Mr. Norton in fragile health. She hadn’t noticed this at the restaurant. He repeated the contents of the note, and she was taken aback.
“Why? What about your family?” Jessie inquired.
Mr. Norton explained, “I don’t have a family. I haven’t seen or heard from them in many years. I was grumpy to everyone in my life for as long as I could remember. The only person who ever dealt with me with a big smile was you. So keep that house for your big family. It’s spacious, meant for people like you who can be patient with old folks.”
Overwhelmed with emotions, Jessie broke down in tears. She couldn’t believe how much Mr. Norton’s presence had come to mean to her. The thought of never seeing him again was unbearable. She couldn’t bear the idea of him dying alone.
As a result, she brought her children to visit Mr. Norton, and for the first time in years, she saw him smile. It was worth more than any tip she’d ever received. A few weeks later, Mr. Norton passed away, leaving Jessie the house officially. His lawyer explained that his family didn’t want anything, so his entire estate was left to her. Though there wasn’t much, the house was a massive boon for her large family.
Her children were thrilled to have their own rooms, and Jessie and her husband both earned promotions at work, improving their financial situation. They had so much to be thankful for, and they made an effort to volunteer at the local senior center in Mr. Norton’s honor. Jessie always paid special attention to the older folks with challenging attitudes, as she understood that sometimes, grumpiness masked a deeper story.