Over the thirty plus years I have supported individuals in loss, I have had moments of feeling filled to the brim with grief stories. In those moments, I fantasized about being of service in a different way, through things like selling flowers or opening a store focused on selling art and craft objects. Both fantasies involved a storefront, a product, a customer who was searching for beauty, who smiled when she/he found what they were looking for and would walk away feeling like they had removed themselves from whatever life was surrounding them, having enjoyed a few moments lost in scent, beauty, and inner peace. Instead of realizing that fantasy, I would take a few days off from work, refresh myself, attend to my own losses, and then re-enter feeling more able to be present to another’s grief.
After being retired for two years, I have been thinking of making myself available to individuals who need a place to sort through their spiritual and emotional experiences. How that would happen and when is a story for my next blog. Ironically, just as I made my final decision to put myself out there, my daughter needed help working her food truck, Icy Icy Shave Ice, at a four-day dog show up here in Cambridge. Two of our grandkids whom she employs were out of town on a vacation trip and that left only her 14-year-old son, plus training in a couple of his teen friends.
I was a bit apprehensive at first as I don’t handle heat and humidity well and we have had both in the extreme. It was a blast. Our daughter guided me and trained me in. At times I took orders and money, other times I ran the ice shaver, poured the syrups, and then the final topping with a napkin and a spoon before handing it all off to the customer with a smile, a thank you with a wish for a good day. At the end of the weekend, I was exhausted but would not trade it for anything. How many in their 7th decade get to work a food truck? I am thrilled I had the opportunity.
It has all brought me back to my 15–16-year-old self, shy, with a first job at Altenburg’s Dairy in Steven’s Point, Wisconsin. I worked the front counter while the ice cream was made in the back. I was self-conscious, afraid of making a mistake, and not getting the order to the customer fast enough. I remember the kindness of the customers as they watched me work. One gentleman gently encouraging me to slow down as no one was in a hurry. Helping me learn how to work with taking my time and paying attention.
Over these last four days of working in heat, humidity, and bouts of rain, I was keenly aware of peoples need for refreshment. At first, they would arrive, tentative when ordering, asking which flavor, the decision of ice cream added or not, and questions of which Is the best flavor. Then as they watched the process and were handed their Icy through the last window, there would be a smile, at first for the beauty and then for the taste. It all gave an enormous sense of satisfaction as over the days we began to recognize people as they returned, bringing friends, ordering for others, smiling in anticipation when they ordered as they knew what was coming, and disappointment when they arrived and we were closing.
During these days, I was once again reminded of a woman who served me multiple times in her cafe in Santiago, Spain. The image is imprinted on my soul as I was moved by how she served us from the preparation at the counter, walking around the counter, then stopping before our table with a bow, a gentle “Gracias”, and offering us our tea or coffee individually in cupped hands. While it came to be expected, it was a sweet moment of blessing that I will not forget. I witnessed her kindness, attention to detail, and presence that made all the difference in our daily returning to her not only for her food but for her sense of being. Her offering was above and beyond the food I was paying for.
Back here at the dog show event, Murry was the newest 14-year-old teen friend to be trained in and was stationed at the final window. I watched as Murry instinctively took the bowl from the one pouring the syrup, set it carefully on the counter on a napkin he had placed before him, gently topped it with coconut whip cream and a fruit garnish, added a spoon, then with cupped hands around the bowl, bowed to the window and the customer as he handed it all off with a smile and a final, “Thank you”.
I have no doubt that these little acts of blessing were being felt and carried away by the customer with their Icy on their lips. It is joy for me to see my daughter’s business being run with the same attention to kindness and care that so deeply moved me in Spain. Making the syrups fresh with her own hands, conscious of sustainability in her paper products, caring about what the client orders as well as their satisfaction, assembling all with attention, and sending the individual or family off with a final bow, a heartfelt smile and a final, “Thank you!”
In the end, it is what we really offer when someone comes for grief counseling or for a tasty treat. It is in our intention, our presence, our desire for their happiness, and a moment of connection.