I was taking my two littlest girls to a check up following their tonsil surgery. I promised them that I would also take them out to eat. I asked them where they wanted to go and they, of course, chose the place with the best playground – the food didn’t matter.
We ordered some kids’ meals and went into the playground area. It was almost empty, and we had our choice of tables, so we sat at the biggest one, closest to the slides. The lunch time crowd soon started to file in. The first was a lady with a sleeveless, collarless shirt with tattoos prominently coloring her arms and the back of her neck. She was probably in her mid to late thirties, and was dressed like a teeny-bopper. Her hair was in pigtails, and all in all, she had an unusual look for someone of her age. But what really surprised me was when five children, who had preceded her into the playground area, came bounding over for the food she set out. As they called her “Mom”, my vision of a mother took on a new perspective.
Next to come in was a tall, skinny woman. She looked like a pipe standing on end. Following her was a man, probably weighing over four hundred pounds, who was wider than he was tall. He carried their tray, and on one end was a meal that was supersized and had a couple of extra burgers. On the other end of the tray was a small kid-size burger, small fry, and small drink. As I looked at the tray, I thought it was obvious which meal was for whom. But as they sat down, the man turned the tray around, leaving the small meal in front of himself. While he slowly nibbled down his portion, the skinny woman devoured all of the super size meal and extra burgers, and started snitching the man’s fries.
As I continued to watch them, a Downs Syndrome girl came in and kindly greeted everyone. Her laugh and happiness were contagious, and she soon had everyone in the room smiling. As she went to play, I wondered where the adults were who were supposed to be with her. A short time later, a burly man with a big bushy beard, wearing leather and looking like he was part of the Hell’s Angels, came walking into the room. A tension filled the room and I’m sure I wasn’t the only one that wondered why such a person would come into the play area of that fast food restaurant.
He walked over to the last open table and set down his tray. It was then that I noticed that, besides his own meal, he also carried a child’s meal. I watched him as he set the food out on the table, and then kindly called in his rough voice, “Penny, honey, come eat.”
The little Downs Syndrome girl came up to him, grinning, and gave him a big kiss. “I wuv you, Uncle Jake.”
He smiled through his big beard, with his brown, tobacco stained teeth showing. “I love you too, Sweet Heart.” She leaned against him and he hugged her close. He fed her fries, and when she accidentally spilled her pop, he never scolded her, but wiped it up and refilled it for her.
As I watched them, I thought how much I had misjudged everyone. I was still considering this when a lady with two small girls came into the room. Her children ran to play as she looked for an open table. All the tables were taken, but I sat alone since my daughters would rather play than eat. She asked me if she could share my table, and I nodded. She called her children over to eat, and the little one, about three years old, kept eying the fries my daughters had left. As she reached for one, her mother scolded her gently. I told her my girls didn’t want them, and that her daughters could have them if it was all right with her. The mother smiled and nodded. Both little girls slid down the table across from me and smiled as I shoved the fries over to them. They started visiting with me as they happily ate the fries.
It was then that an employee, who had been sweeping, came over to our table. She smiled at the lady and at me. “You two have a darling family.” Then she turned specifically to me. “I’ve never seen two little girls that looked more like their daddy.”
I looked at the lady, whose children they were, and she just smiled and shrugged. I guess I wasn’t the only one who didn’t see things quite the way they really were.
Daris Howard, award-winning, syndicated columnist, playwright, and author, can be contacted at da***@da*********.com; or visit his website.
MaryannAugust 5, 2013
Thanks so much for a sweet "wake-up" call. There have been many times when my first impression of someone was unfavorable. So often I later came to appreciate and care for these people as I got to truly know them. We need to have open minds and open hearts and to look for the best in others.
KayAugust 3, 2013
This is an utterly wonderful story and great reminder for us all. On another note, how about a story someday on how your parents came to name you Daris?