I wrote earlier that I was fortunate, or as I like to say very blessed, to have been able to live in other cities and states like Nashville, Tennessee.

While living in Nashville I had the opportunity to work part time as a waitress, a job actually now referred to as a server. That opportunity popped up while I was working full-time at our trucking company. I had a friend across the hall from our office that also worked in the trucking business and I would go out to lunch with her now and then and her favorite spot was the Cracker Barrel. So over a period of time we’d sit in the same section and always had the same server take our orders and we’d chat back and forth. I always admired these professionals so as we chatted our server was telling us the restaurant was short handed on the weekends and she wondered if we might know anyone that may be looking for a part-time job. I remember I told her that as a teenager I was a dime store waitress on a soda fountain and I just loved it. She said, “Your office and trucking business is closed on the weekends. Why not give it a try?” I kind of laughed because it had been many, many years ago and a soda fountain was nowhere near like waitressing at a place like this one.

My friend did part- time work of a different sort on the weekends which I tried and didn’t like so she kind of talked me into giving it a shot because my hubby and hers were mostly on the road trucking on weekends.

Let the fun begin! I was hired because as the manager said I was trainable because experienced servers were difficult to train because of their own ideas of how to serve. Obviously he could see I had very little or next to nothing to overcome attitude wise. Training began and I was given the standard uniform to wear with an accompanying brown apron with the name “Starla” embroidered on it in gold thread. Of course that wasn’t my name but it would have to do until my very own embroidered apron would arrive with “Helen” in plain view so customers would know who was serving them.

At first I was assigned to walk side by side one of the more experienced servers to watch and learn every detail of the art of properly serving the patrons. I did fetch coffee and water for some of the other servers’ customers and would smile and greet each one while refilling their cups or glasses. I remember a few times if a refill was needed the customer would call out my name —Starla— and of course I failed to respond because that wasn’t my name. I remember one customer was a little testy and actually hollered “Hey Starla!Can’t you hear or don’t you know your own name?” Of course I couldn’t say “That’s not my name buddy” so I just smiled and carried on doing my best to learn as I went along my way. I also had to learn to balance a small round tray with six or eight glasses of water or beverages on it. The trick was to adjust your fingers and hand under the tray to accommodate the full tray then move your hand around slowly as you took each glass off or the entire tray would tilt and fall. It was the same way with the larger food trays that held six to eight platters of food and some small side dishes. This was not easy for me so instead I did run myself ragged for a few days without the trays delivering my customers drinks and food a drink or plate one at a time but I finally mastered this skill thanks to the patience of my trainer.

What I did have major problems with was memorizing the codes used to order main dishes and sides. Each main dish—chicken, fish, roast beef or meatloaf among others—had a number assigned to them and the side dishes had letters assigned to them. There were so many side dishes I couldn’t list them all here but some were corn, peas, beans, coleslaw, macaroni etc. Well I did the best I could after I was assigned my own section but a few times it didn’t go well at all. I remember the head cook or chef actually looked mean sort of like Bluto from the Popeye cartoon—look it up so you get a better picture! One day I had way too many customers in my section so I was nervous and in a hurry so I wrote out the names of the side dishes instead of the numbers and pinned my orders on the wheel in front of Bluto. The wheel was full of orders from all the servers including mine and when your order was ready you’d hear “Order up Karen,” or whoever. I’m waiting to hear “Order up Starla,” but nothing, so I looked over the window at you know who and he took my tickets off the wheel, crumbled them up and threw them back at me and said “I don’t have time for this blankety you know what.” So off I went into the lunchroom crying like a baby and one of the more skilled servers took over for me. I got it together and finished my shift but before I headed out the door the chef asked to speak privately with me and I was afraid of what was coming my way. I thought he might say he wanted me fired because of my lack of know how but he didn’t. Instead he said he was sorry for the language he used and gave me a few tips on how to master writing up orders that he and the other short order cooks could easily see to make things flow quickly and efficiently. Actually while I listened and watched his facial expressions he didn’t look mean at all, it was just my imagination.

So I carried on as a much better friend and server, making his job easier and mine as well. The moral of this story is we can all learn from our mistakes and help make other lives more pleasant by listening and not judging folks by what we think they look like.

Contact Helen at tct@pageone-inc.com.