The Folded Napkin ..
A Truckers Story
If this doesn't light your fire ... your
wood is wet!
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
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 Downs 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
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
"truck stop germ" the pairs of white-shirted business men on expense
accounts who think every truck stop 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 truck stop mascot.
After that, I really didn't care what the rest of the customers
thought of him. He was like a 21-year-old kid 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 dishes and glasses onto his 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
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 truck
stop. Their social worker, who stopped to check on him every so often,
admitted they had
fallen between the cracks. Money was tight, and what I paid him was
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
Downs Syndrome often have 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, the head waitress, let out a war hoop and did a little dance
in the aisle when she heard the good news.
Marvin Ringers, one of our regular trucker customers, stared at the
sight of this 50-year-old grandmother of four doing a victory shimmy
beside his table.
Frannie blushed, smoothed her apron and shot Marvin 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 Marvin 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." Marvin 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 and a funny look on her face.
"What's up?" I asked.
"I didn't get that table where Marvin and his friends were sitting
cleared off after they left, and Pete and Tony 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."
"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:
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. I then met
them in the parking lot and invited them both to celebrate his day
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 your
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 smile on his face, was busy
clearing all the cups and dishes from the table..
Best worker I ever hired.
This story made me cry...and it isn't due to the pregnancy hormones. I would be lying to say that I won't miss my job @ the school. I start my new job on Monday, and I will miss the kids. I will miss seeing the progress that they make...all their little milestones. The things that they accomplish that seem so little...but we know that it was like climbing a mountain. I am excited to see the new path that my life is taking, and I am thankful for the gentle reminders that show me that I can make a difference anywhere-because the truth is, people do it all the time. What we do truly does matter...in fact I think it matters more than of us will ever know.
Here's to making a difference for all my friends!
1 year ago