The Waitress grew up in a postcard North Baltimore colonial, three kids and a dog, picture perfect, and lonely. She watched her parents pour their first drink before sundown every afternoon, her mother in pearls and a fresh dress, her dad exchanging his briefcase for “something cold” as he crossed the threshold. Even as a little girl she knew the names on the bottles, how the seasons affected what was served, how to pass the hors d'oeuvres, and when to swallow her feelings. There was something dark under the family’s brittle surface that trained her to smile no matter what, and she internalized that her experiences were less important than her parents’ tangle of anger and regret.
Because the summer’s lack of structure was especially disconcerting to her mother, the girl was sent away with her teenaged siblings to work at a seaside resort. She learned there how to cook and clean and make the most of a crowded bunkhouse, but more importantly she discovered how to draw people out and help them relax as she poured iced tea and served them pieces of pie. “Comparing our sad table at home to the sunny dining room at the beach was a revelation to me,” the Waitress said. “People want to talk. They want to be understood. And some of them want to make a difference.”
She devoted her life to hearing people tell their stories, and in the small world that is Baltimore, she learned to connect one person’s longing with another’s deep need. She met people who had everything and people who had nothing, and made the most of it when an opportunity came knocking. “I learned to be bold. If someone I served had resources and a school needed help, I asked them to do something about it.” At the end of her life, the Waitress was especially proud to know that scores of children had better classrooms and art studios and playing fields because of her efforts.
Fully told, the Waitress’s story was punctuated by pain. Her longing to repair lost relationships was both the fire in her belly to create places of nurture and possibility, and a familiar sadness that never fully healed. She tried to make the most of a difficult childhood, but at home, out of the sunlight, with her own husband and children, she would be the first to admit that she didn’t always measure up.
She was a survivor: the Waitress knew the hungering darkness, like the teacher from Nazareth whom she admired so much. And like him, she offered what she had to kindle some light.
Rev. David J. Ware is Rector of the Church of the Redeemer