While living in Ireland in 1998, Catherine was surprised to find herself one summer working as a waitress in a little café in the popular destination town of Kinvara. Nestled in a crook of Galway Bay in the West of Ireland, Kinvara is a place of megalithic tombs, holy wells, a 14th century castle, ancient cairns, Irish music, and weekly set-dancing. Out of her experience, Catherine wrote the book “God is in Rosaleen’s Restaurant.”
This week and next, posts will feature short excerpts about her struggle with serving a penniless man.
He went right over to a couple eating their leek and potato soup-of-the-day. Bloodshot, whiskered, he wore a tattered coat over tattered clothing. I ran over to rescue the young man at the table, his face twisted with unknowing what to do and guilt for not wanting to do anything at all.
“Can I help you?” I faced the man and was struck by an inescapable heat wave of drink. All I could see was grey. Grey face, grey clothes, grey mouth, empty except for a few grey teeth.
“I don’t have any money. No money at all. But could I have a cup of tea?” His eyes were pained with the asking, (How many times that day, that lifetime?) and his face vulnerable with the fear of my response.
“Oh, you’re all right, sir,” I said and led him to a table. “Is it tea that you want?”
“A cup of tea. But I don’t have any money.”
“Oh, you’re all right,” I repeated. “Just take a seat there.”
Not long after I brought him some tea, he started shouting indecipherably. I ran to him and patted his forearm. “You’re all right,” I said. Then I brought my finger to my lips, “Shhh, now. Shhh.”
He looked at me like an admonished child. When I went by his table again, I was carrying the empty soup bowls. His eyes widened and he tried to snatch the leftover bread on the passing plate.
“I’ll bring you something to eat,” I said, and soon served him buttered bread and jam. “You take your time now.”
And he did. He sat like any gentleman would while having his tea. Before leaving, he came to the register and stood in line as if to pay.
“I thank you kindly,” he said in his booming voice. “Saying thank you is the least I can do.”
“God bless you,” I said. And he left.
Once the grey man left, I noticed a shift in generosity. The young couple that he first approached smiled at me more intimately than one might at a waitress. Later in the evening, the other waitress I was working with made me sit down and insisted on bringing me a cup of peppermint tea.