I love Sundays. For me, they are about rituals, routines, relaxation and re-connecting to my spouse as we ready ourselves for another busy work week. On Sundays we get to take a deep breath and just be...
Sometimes life gets in the way of our Sunday schedule, but a typical Sunday for us includes mass at St. Michael's (the 8:45 or the 10:30 service, depending on how many times we hit the snooze button), followed by breakfast at our neighborhood Village Inn, and a leisurely afternoon doing something fun or frivolous -- maybe a matinee movie, a game of racquetball, a run, some bookstore browsing, or simply a day vegging out in front of the television watching re-runs, while the rhythmic sound of laundry spinning and tumbling and the even breathing of three sleeping Schnauzers at our feet serve as our afternoon soundtrack.
There is a peace and balance that the predictable pattern of our Sundays brings to my sometimes chaotic and over-scheduled life. Part of this peace is the friendships we have found by being "regulars" at our neighborhood Village Inn. Our two favorite waitstaff members - Jimmy and Julz expect us each Sunday and treat us like family, or in most cases, better than family. We can always count on them for a free slice of the pie-of-the-month, free beverages, free friendly banter, and only the best in customer service -- extra green chili on the huevos rancheros, eggs cooked to perfection (over-easy for me, over-hard for Kevin), Cholula ready on the table before we ask (even though Tabasco sauce is the standard for other customers' tables). At the end of our meal, the manager, Joe, rings up our total and sends us off with good wishes and maybe a joke or two, and we know, that no matter what the following week has in store for us, we just had a really good breakfast and easy conversation with people who care about us (and not just because we're paying customers). In essence, we're spoiled. And it's nice to be spoiled at a run-of-the-mill breakfast chain on a Sunday morning. So for the past few years, regardless of how long the wait is or what the rest of our morning entails, we are content to read the newspaper in the lobby and wait on the list just to sit in Jimmy or Julz's section, and exchange a joke with Joe.
So you can imagine our shock when this Sunday morning, our weekly ritual was smothered by a shroud of sadness.
Bounding up to the hostess' podium, I chirped to Alisa, "The usual -- two for Jimmy or Julz's section!" She took a deep breath, a funny look darkening her usually bright features, "Oh...Julz isn't here today, she's on vacation," she replied. "No problem -- how about Jimmy then?" Again, the weird face, the awkward pause, the hushed tone, and then, "He's...passed," escaped her lips. A stupor of shock and disbelief made me take a step back and run through all of the possible things she could have meant by those two words. Passed out sick or sleeping, unable to come to work? Passed on the shift and he'll be back next week? Passed on the opportunity to stay at this location and is transferring to another? Because I couldn't possibly figure out exactly what she meant by "passed" I said the only thing I could think of for clarity:
"What...?" and I leaned in to make sure I heard every syllable she uttered.
"Jimmy...died. He was in a fatal car accident two weeks ago." She proceeded to rattle off the names of every other waitstaff member working today, determined to give us our third choice and usher us to a table, wanting to believe that pancakes and bacon would cushion the weight of the news we had just forced her to divulge. "Anyone else is fine," Kevin and I whispered in unison, exchanging furtive glances of disbelief.
Settling into our booth, a lump the weight of a syrup bottle formed in my throat, working its way down to my stomach. Impossible. But true. Looking around, I began to take in the somber air that filled the restaurant and permeated the lobby, tears welling in my eyes for the server turned friend, who would never get a final farewell or generous tip from us again. I began to experience what Village Inn would feel like without Jimmy -- heavy and empty. No white teeth flashing smiles and pleasantries. No joyful greeting of, "Nice to see you again, Mr. Kevin and Miss Jessica," or for customers he didn't know on a first-name basis, "Of course, ma'am!" and "Let me bring you a piece of pie, sir!" or, "Be right there, Boss Man," when Joe needed him in a pinch.
Before this morning, we didn't know Jimmy's last name. We didn't know what he looked like out-of-uniform, or that he was only 23 years old, born in 1988, the same year as my baby sister. Before this morning, we didn't know that Jimmy was a boxer with a 26-6 record who was never knocked out in the ring. Before this morning we didn't know that Jimmy was a Hinkley high school graduate who made all-state in both football and basketball, and the academic honor roll 3 out of 4 years. Before this morning, we didn't know that Jimmy's favorite colors were red and black, that he loved hip hop music and that he had so many girlfriends he sometimes got into trouble. Before this morning we didn't know that Jimmy was raised by his grandmother who passed away when he was 14, and that despite having a father in prison, a mother in California who couldn't be bothered to raise her own son, and siblings sprinkled in various states across the country, he maintained a clean lifestyle and made an honest living, choosing not to follow in the footsteps of his would-be role models.
So, what did we know about Jimmy? We knew that he treated every one of his customers the way he treated us -- like royalty. We knew that he could memorize the most complicated and convoluted order without ever writing it down, and that he wasn't satisfied unless he knew his customers were. We knew he had a heart of gold and that he was a hero to the kids that were lucky enough to sit in his section. We knew he never missed a shift or an opportunity to showcase politeness -- to regulars and strangers alike. We knew that he brightened our Sundays and set the tone for our week. We knew he was humble, handsome and hard-working, gentle and generous, with a soft competitive streak that compelled us to root for his team in the recent restaurant World Cup pool. We knew he gave honest advice about what was good on the menu (and what to skip), and that no matter how busy he was, he was never too busy for us.
Today, as we reminisced over pancakes and coffee, Joe shared that his service was standing room only, and that he missed the beginning of it because he was trying to bring in more chairs to accommodate all of the mourners. Family, friends, his VI family and customers flooded Orchard Road Christian Center to say goodbye to a man taken from us too soon. Jimmy wasn't wealthy or famous, he wasn't powerful or what most people would call prestigious. Before today we didn't even know his last name. But his smile and his impeccable manners touched every person he served. He made a difference -- to us, and to so many other customers who breakfast at Village Inn just to sit in his section and feel better about themselves, and about the world.
I'll never eat another piece of pie without thinking of Jimmy. The Birthday Cake pie was his current self-proclaimed favorite.
Joe comped our breakfast this morning. I guess he thought we shouldn't have to pay for bacon, eggs and a side of profound loss. Maybe he was moved by our shock, our sadness, and the tears that pooled in our plates and dropped into our coffee cups. Or maybe he did it because he felt it's what Jimmy would have wanted. Whatever the reason, we thank you, sir.
And to Tyrell Cornelius Jimmylee Kinard -- we'll miss you. Thanks for making our Sundays.