“Jessie, since you’re the new girl around here you’ll have to work table 13,” her co-worker, Mark, told her as she put on her apron for her first day as a waitress in a restaurant.
However, as Jessie made her way to table 13, she saw an older man slouching in his chair looking at the menu.
“He’s just an old man,” Jessie said, puzzled. “What’s wrong with him?”
“Oh, honey. He’s terrible. So get ready. No one here likes to serve him,” Mark replied.
“I can handle anything,” Jessie continued, confident.
But she was wrong to dismiss Mark’s words out of hand. The man at the table, Mr. Nolan, was a difficult client.
“Who are you?” he asked when she approached with a smile.
“I’m Jessie, what are you having today?” she replied while maintaining a smile.
“I always drink the same thing, and you guys ask me all the time. Iced tea. But not too cold and not too sweet. Two lemon wedges and a straw,” the man muttered almost angrily.
“Perfect. And do you know what you’re having for lunch?”.
“Not yet. Go away and get me my iced tea!” she demanded.
Jessie’s eyebrows rose in shock, but she walked away and ordered the iced tea. Despite placing a relatively simple order, the man complained. At first, it was too sweet, then too cold. The lemon slices didn’t have enough juice. His straw was flimsy because it was now paper.
“We only have paper drinking straws now,” Jessie said, trying not to lose her temper over the fourth glass she had prepared.
“What a frail, stupid generation. Okay, I’ll have lasagna,” the man said and threw the menu at her chest.
Jessie had a permanent smile on her face. She wasn’t going to let that guy sour her first day. But the lasagna had all kinds of flaws.
In fact, his order took so long that she served about six more families before he finally finished. At least he left a tip.
“I should have listened,” Jessie told Mark at the end of the day.
“Yeah. We’re sorry. But someone has to take care of him,” he laughed.
However, Jessie wouldn’t let a client bring her down. She was doing it for her children. She had five at home, and her husband was working overtime to support them. But it wasn’t enough, so she had finally gone back to work, trying to do better for them. Luckily, her mother offered to help her take care of her youngest children while she worked.
However, Jessie came home at night exhausted and spent almost no time with her boys. As she drifted off to sleep, she promised herself that tomorrow she would do better and play with her children.
Unfortunately, that didn’t happen. Because every day was more complicated and difficult with her grumpy customer. Waitressing was harder now than when she was younger, but at least the tips were good.
For years, she waited on grumpy old Mr. Nolan, and had a way with him that impressed the rest of the staff.
He was more patient and even learned a little about her life. He was like a child during a tantrum most of the time, but at times, he was almost pleasant and would ask her about her life. And no matter how much he complained, he always left a 15% tip, so at least that was nice.
However, one day there was no money on the table. Normally, he would pay and leave a few extra bills, but that day Jessie found a key and a note.
“Dear Jessie, thank you for putting up with this grumpy old man for so long. I’m going to a special hospice now, so I won’t be coming back. This is the key to my house. It’s yours. I’ll leave you my lawyer’s card so you can settle everything officially. Goodbye, my dear. P.S. My tea was too sweet, but I didn’t complain. See? It’s my time,” Jessie read aloud and was stunned.
She couldn’t believe it. He had left his key, his home address and his lawyer’s card so she could contact him. But that was impossible. Why would he leave his house to a complete stranger, Jessie wondered. I know he has family.
So she contacted the lawyer and asked him about that hospice so she could visit him and get some answers. Once there, she saw how thin Mr. Nolan had gotten. She hadn’t noticed it so well in the restaurant, but it was obvious.
The grumpy old man repeated to her what he had written in the note and told her it was real.
“But why? What about your children?” asked Jessie.
“My children hate me. I haven’t seen or heard from them in many years. I was a grouch to everyone in my life for as long as I can remember, and the only person who ever treated me with a big smile was you. So keep that house for your big family. It’s huge. It’s made for people like you who can be patient with old things,” she said and Jessie burst into tears.
She had no idea when she had started to like Mr. Nolan’s presence, but the thought of never seeing him again was too much. Or maybe she just hated that he was dying alone. So, that weekend, Jessie took her children to meet him and, for the first time in years, saw the old man smile. That was worth a thousand tips.
Mr. Nolan died a few weeks later, and Jessie officially inherited the house. His lawyer said his family didn’t want anything, so in the end his entire estate passed to her. There wasn’t much else besides the beautiful house, but it was a huge thing for her large family.
Her children were thrilled because they now had their own rooms, and Jessie and her husband had gotten promotions at work, which meant their financial situation was a little better. They had a lot to be thankful for, so they volunteered as often as they could at a senior care facility in Mr. Nolan’s honor.
And Jessie always paid attention to the elders with the worst attitudes. She knew they were grumpy for a reason, and they reminded her of the man who changed her life.