Breaking Bread Is Better Than Breaking Bonds

, , , , | Hopeless | July 20, 2017

In the late 90s, a couple from Iran moves in next door to my parents. They’re very friendly people, although a bit shy and the wife initially didn’t speak much English. While they both wear traditional Western clothes, they are practicing Muslims. Most of the neighborhood is white and at least nominally Christian, and none of the other neighbors are Middle Eastern or Muslim. But no one cares and the couple settles right in, and the other families in the neighborhood are happy to throw a baby shower for them when the wife is pregnant. She is so touched she cries happy tears, explaining that she felt so accepted and loved.

In the days following September 11, 2001, several of the neighbors were standing out on the sidewalk talking, trying to process the terror attacks. My dad notices that he hasn’t seen the next-door neighbors. He walks to their door and knocks. The husband answers. (The husband is about five-foot three and the wife even smaller. My dad is six-foot two; only one other man in the neighborhood is taller.) The neighbor looks a little nervous.

Dad greets the neighbor and explains that a bunch of people just felt like talking, and he and his wife were welcome to join if they want. The neighbor declines, and Dad reassures him that no one is mad at him or his wife or thought they are terrorist or sympathizers. He says, “If you don’t blame me for Timothy McVeigh, I won’t blame you for the terrorists.” The neighbor still stays home, but is relieved.

They’re still my parents’ next-door neighbors, and still very nice people. I have kids myself now, and the neighbors have given them carte blanche to pick any of the flowers in their front yard (and the flowers are incredible; the most gorgeous roses I’ve ever seen) and often give them Christmas presents. I’m going to visit my parents tomorrow, and since Ramadan is over, I have a loaf of (Halal-friendly) bread baking in the oven to bring the neighbors.

Kindness Is Just A Stoner’s Throw Away

, , , , , | Hopeless | July 18, 2017

(On my day off, I decide to head to the local pot dispensary to take advantage of their Fourth of July sale. When I pull into their parking lot, I see a group of four people — two men, a woman, and a child — standing around a car with the hood up. Note: it’s hovering around 100 degrees, a rarity in Oregon.)

Me: “Y’all need a jump?”

Older Man: “Nah, the car just overheated. We’re waiting for it to cool down a bit so we can open the radiator cap.”

Me: “Y’all got water?”

Older Man: “Yeah, we have some to put in there.”

Me: “Y’all got water for yourselves? It’s really hot out here.”

Woman: “No, we don’t.”

Me: “I always keep a six pack of bottled water in my trunk, for times like this.”

(I pop my trunk while the younger man, the woman, and the kid follow me over. The older man stays by their car. I pull three water bottles out of the pack, one for each of the three who seemed interested in the offer. They thank me, and I head into the dispensary.)

Woman: *overheard as I walk away* “See, Dad? I told you. Stoners are the nicest people!”

Begging For A Happy Ending

, , , | Hopeless | July 16, 2017

Story takes place outside of a deli type store, during a heat wave in the middle of the summer. In 2012 I find myself homeless due to enormous medical bills that leave me bankrupt. I don’t have a bed in a shelter yet and I am not proud but have been begging outside the store for some spare change, to get a bottle of water. I feel ashamed for begging but I haven’t had any water since the day before and feel so hot and weak. I have only had 35 cents so far.

An ambulance stops by for what I assume is snacks. The woman crew member apologizes and says she doesn’t have any spare change when I ask. I thank her anyway and resume standing outside.

The woman comes back out after about 5-10 minutes in the store. She approaches me and hands me a bag. Inside the bag is two large bottles of water and a sandwich. I break down crying from her generosity.

She then asks if I have someplace to stay and I tell her no. She asks if it would be okay if she makes a phone call on my behalf. What happens next is a miracle for me. She calls a homeless outreach program and tells them I have nowhere to go. Within an hour, a program counselor comes to pick me up and I have a shelter bed and access to food and water.

The shelter helped me find a new job and eventually helped me transition into my own place three months later. I never did catch the woman’s name, but she truly saved my life. I can only hope that she realizes how much of an impact she had on turning my situation around. I still call her my angel.

Some Stories (Chop)Stick With You

, , , , , | Hopeless | July 14, 2017

This story takes place about 20 years ago. I own a small Chinese restaurant and every week on Sunday at 11:30 on the dot, a family comes in. The father is Caucasian and the mother is Chinese. Their daughter is about five or six and is one of the loudest and rambunctious children I’ve ever met.

Every Sunday without fail, they’ll come in, and the kid will make a mess, scream, etc., and the father will ask for a fork for himself and their daughter. The mother will constantly try to calm her daughter down and tell her to be a “proper lady” and tell her husband to at least attempt to use chopsticks — and usually fail to do so. It becomes a habit and I usually have to deal with this table because the kid’s such a pain that none of my servers want to deal with her.

One week, the family just stops coming. Most of us are thinking “Oh, good, no more brat.” Three months pass and the family comes back, but it’s just the father and the child.

Surprisingly, the child is very calm. In fact she orders the dishes, says please and thank you (I’d like to mention that half of our adult patrons don’t do that), and she uses chopsticks better than my eight-year-old.

After the meal the father comes up to pay for the bill. I ask him how he got his daughter to be so polite, because quite frankly it seems like a miracle.

He gives me the most forlorn look I’ve ever seen. Apparently his wife died in a car crash about three months earlier (at this point I am feeling very guilty about calling her a brat) and never came home. For some reason his daughter thought it was her fault and that because she was being naughty her mother didn’t want to come back. Even though the father said it wasn’t the case, she insisted on being a “proper lady” and got both of them to learn how to use chopsticks, “Because Ma Ma will come back if she sees how nice we are.”

After he paid for the bill I just went to the back and cried. I went home and hugged my daughter.

It’s been 20 years since then and they’re still regulars. She even has a little family of her own that she brings in. The little girl eventually realized that her mother wasn’t coming back, but was still the most polite customer I’ve ever had. I’m sure her mother would be very proud to see how well she’s grown up.

It still brings me great joy when I see the daughter teaching her own children how to use chopsticks.

Big Mac Attack

, , , | Hopeless | July 12, 2017

(I babysit three children every weekday. Once a week, I make dinner as well. Sometimes their parents join us, sometimes they don’t. The parents are health food nuts, so the kids have never set foot in a fast food place. Fortunately, the family keeps a very well-stocked pantry, they’re not vegetarians, and no one has any food allergies, so my options are pretty much unlimited. One day, when I am going to be making dinner and the parents will not be with us, I have this discussion with the kids several hours before dinnertime.)

Kid #1: *trying to be casual* “I wonder what a Big Mac is like…”

Me: “You’ve had burgers before. You know what meat tastes like.”

Kid #1: “Yeah, but Big Macs are fancy. They’ve got special sauce and stuff.”

Me: “Fast food isn’t very good. The ingredients come from questionable sources, safety procedures leave something to be desired, and they’ve got so much sodium that wildlife could use them as salt licks. Plus the flavors are so mixed together that you can’t taste anything particular, and the texture’s usually pretty wonky.”

Kid #2: “Just once won’t kill us. Mom and Dad aren’t gonna be home tonight. We could check it out tonight. Just once, please? We won’t tell. Promise!”

(I instantly decide on my course of action and pull up the McDonald’s menu on my phone.)

Me: “You guys tend to take a long time making decisions at restaurants. I don’t want to stand in line for an hour, so make your decisions now.”

(They do indeed take about an hour picking and choosing their meals. I take careful notes, including who wants pickles, cheese, etc. Eventually, dinnertime arrives.)

Me: “Okay, kids, dinner’s ready.”

Kid #3: “But I thought we were going to McDonald’s.”

Me: “We are.”

(They looked at each other, confused, but obediently trooped into the kitchen. Laid out at each place were the exact meals they had requested, freshly hand made. I had even Googled a recipe for Big Mac sauce. The meal was a big hit with the kids, and the parents cracked up when I told them. We have since done the same thing with other fast food places with equal success. Recently, Kid #1 confessed that he had gotten a friend to smuggle him a real Big Mac, and that after my fresh home cooking, he had found the real thing massively disappointing.)

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