Filling up on sweetness, with fragility

>>>Filling up on sweetness, with fragility

“Excuse me,” I said quietly to the cashier, handing her my receipt, “Would you mind giving this to the next person who needs a meal?”

She took it, gazed at me in bewilderment, “But you paid for lunch! Don’t you like it?”

“It looks great, but I have no way to carry it back to the table,” I replied, pointing to my wheelchair, “So thanks, anyway.”

The Elmo stories (of Elmo, my replacement knee and then the fight to save him when I smashed my femur) have been going on for more than two years now. People ask to read them start to finish, so I’ve set up this Saving Elmo index page to let you view the whole series in one swell foop.

Hometown Buffet wasn’t my usual lunch spot, but I’d had to skip my casting workshop that morning to fix a flat tire on the loaner wheelchair. The bike repair shop was fast, efficient, and friendly, leaving me enough time to grab a quick lunch before heading down to what was left of the workshop.

I’d exited the shop to the sidewalk in the little strip mall, saw Hometown and rolled on in.

This is an all-you-can-eat buffet place; you chow down until you’ve had enough or the place shuts down. The cashier handed me a cup for water, pointed to the ranks of steam tables, and I’d headed that way, only to discover a problem.

Spiffy performance wheelchairs like mine are wonderful for transport, and you can get them into the car by yourself–which is why I had one. Yet they have one major drawback: You need both hands on the wheels to go straight–one-handed pushing takes you in circles–so you can’t hold anything, and they have absolutely no storage space.

The chair had enough slope that I couldn’t rest a plate on my thighs. I tried holding the plate in one hand, pushing the wheelchair with the other, and streeetching my toes down to the carpet to steer, but got nowhere. The carpet was too thick for easy transport.

After a few attempts I gave up, handed back my receipt, and tried to leave. The restaurant exit is an airlock; two heavy glass entry doors separated by a short, narrow hallway lined with gumball machines. The door shut behind me, giving me no room to turn around. I couldn’t quite reach the outside door latch without taking both hands off the wheels, which meant I could either open the door or go forward, not both.

I was stuck, staring out that glass door. I realized I was staring at the place where I’d fallen, last September. It was the first time I’d set eyes on it since the accident, and I felt a rising panic. It had been a trying week.

I redoubled my efforts to escape, but when I tried to back out, my wheels caught in the gumball stands. I was well and truly stuck.

OK, stop. Think. Someone will come. Calm down.

A hand touched my shoulder. “Hey!” said a soft voice, “Please don’t leave without your lunch!”

It was the cashier, eyes full of concern. “Honey, our food is really good, you’ll like it, I promise. Tell you what: You tell me what you want, and I’ll get it for you. As much as you want, and I’ll carry it to your table.”

Funny what a little kindness can do. Picture me, crying in the airlock of Hometown Buffet, enfolded into the arms of a total stranger.

“Come on,” she coaxed, opening the door, “Come back inside. I promise we’ll take care of you.”

I carefully backed up, and followed her inside to find people smiling encouragement. I was embarrassed to death, but the cashier simply picked up a plate.

“Now, our fried chicken’s really good,” she said matter-of-factly, “And we have homemade meatloaf. That’s my favorite.”

Food was the last thing on my mind, but… “Maybe a drumstick, some green beans, and a roll?”

She piled my plate high; a waitress rushed to fill my glass with water. They led me to a table and a little old lady in a wheelchair smiled as I rolled by.

“Us wheelies gotta stick together,” she said, patting my hand.

That’s how I came to have a fried chicken lunch with a bunch of non-strangers while reflecting on the wonderful folk in the world. Someone stopped by every couple of minutes, offering me salad, meatloaf, drinks. I ate some of everything, then set my fork down. This time, the cashier held the door open for me.

“You don’t want dessert?” she asked in surprise, “We have GREAT desserts. Not even a sundae?”

Nope. I’d filled up on a different kind of sweetness.

Thanks, ma’am.



  1. Valerie Adams July 22, 2017 at 8:27 am - Reply

    Yep, tears for me too. I can’t imagine how hard it is to keep such an incredible attitude like you do. The world needs more care, compassion, and people willing to reach out to others now more than ever.

    Last week, David and I were attending a concert at the Red Rocks Ampitheatre in Colorado. The combination of 6,500 altitude and 100 degree heat sent my blood sugar skyrocketing. I’d already used as much insulin as I could to try and manage while standing in line and hiking uphill in to the theater. We arrived at the stage and learned we had to climb stairs nearly to the top of the 10,000 seat theater.

    Diabetes protocol is that exercise + very high blood glucose can be catastrophic to the heart. My heart was already working overtime with the altitude so the stairs had me a bit concerned.

    I didn’t need the embarrassment of having a heart attack in front of 10,000 people, LOL. We checked in with an usher before beginning the trek to our seats. I didn’t realize David also asked her about the medical facilities, in case we needed them.

    Just after the concert started, I saw her winding her way towards me. She leaned down, putting her arm around me, and asked if I was feeling OK, and how my blood sugar was. She made sure I had water and said she’d be keeping her eyes on me. I was so humbled by her care and kindness!

    • cynthia July 22, 2017 at 12:10 pm - Reply

      I know, right? I guess Shakespeare knew what he was talking about (even if he was being sarcastic): What a piece of work is (hu)man.

  2. kathryncecelia July 7, 2017 at 12:14 am - Reply

    Your closing line gave me shivers. It was a very well told story. thank you for sharing it. Blessings on you. PS. What was the casting workshop you missed?

  3. Nancy July 6, 2017 at 6:35 pm - Reply

    Thank you for letting me join your journey. We don’t know each other, but I am so proud of you! Such a circumstance (set of) life has set before you. Thank you for being brave and courageous. You inspire me. Keep moving in the direction of your dreams.

  4. Gloria Badiner July 6, 2017 at 12:59 pm - Reply

    The kindness of strangers. After 14 years taking care of my Father (disabled) and Step-Mom (quadriplegic) from a car accident it became clear that everyday life can come with insurmountable challenges. Some doors are just too heavy to pull open from a chair, little bumps and slight inclines can seem like mountains, heavy carpet can trip a walker or making wheels too hard to move over and the body’s endurance is never enough. I have learned to reach out and simply ask if someone needs helps. Many times it it met with a “I am fine” or “I can do it” but there is almost always a thank you for asking. I err on the helpful side for the time help is needed. I also ask caregivers if they need a break or help. Please don’t hesitate to ask for a hand Cynthia, I personally have had to when struggling with two parents in tow and only one set of hands. The kindness of strangers has blessed my life many many times. Tears here too, for all the people that struggle in our world.

  5. Jeri Warhaftig July 6, 2017 at 10:40 am - Reply

    Tears here too. I think learning your story has emboldened me to reach out and help others more than in the past. I always want to, but am sort of full of the feeling that I don’t want to embarrass anyone. I’m over that now. Thanks.

  6. Marilyn July 6, 2017 at 8:02 am - Reply

    Your sweetness didn’t even include the sweet tea, and fwiw my eyes seem to be tearing up a bit
    Sorry you didn’t get to casting workshop

  7. moiratheglasssmith July 6, 2017 at 6:04 am - Reply

    Lovely story, brought tears to my eyes!
    Can you fit some sort of removable tray for this kind of situation?

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