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Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Paying it forward

My daughter went to the Rock City summer camp in July and their final performance was held at Shamrock City, a small Irish night club and restaurant in downtown St. John's. It's a wonderful program that allows young people a chance to play in a live band and perform in front of a crowd.

My husband, son and I couldn't wait to see our daughter perform with a live band in a night club setting. The final performance was held on a Friday afternoon. We decided to meet there for lunch first to ensure we found a parking space and made the show on time.

The kids did an awesome job performing and the food was fabulous. While we were eating I couldn't help but notice an elderly lady sitting alone at the table across from us drinking a beer.

This lady was probably in her 70s, with blond hair piled on top of her hair. Her front teeth were missing and she was dressed more like a teenager than a senior. The lines on her face were a tell tale sign that she had lived a hard life and her overall appearance told you that she suffered from mental illness. She is a regular character in the downtown area.

By the time the waitress brought us our food the club was filled with families of the children attending the camp. Before too long there wasn't an empty table in the club and the only empty chair was the one opposite this elderly woman.

I couldn't stop looking at her out of the corner of my eye. The loneliness in her face was hard to ignore. Maybe it was the passing of my Mother this year that made me notice this woman. My Mother had a soft spot for women who lead hard lives because she knew firsthand how hard life could be. She would have approached this lady and said hello and asked if she was ok.

When I was growing up I would get embarrassed when my Mother approached someone like this lady and ask "Why do you have to talk to every hard luck story we pass?" She would always answer with “There but for the Grace of God go I."

I noticed she took some coins out of her pocket and counted a few loonies and toonies. Then put them away again. The waitress brought a fish and chips and laid it on the table in front of her and in no time she cleaned her plate. She took out her change again and counted it. It didn't look like she had enough to pay for her meal and beer.

By that time the waitress had brought our bill and told us we could pay at the counter when we were ready. I took the bill from my husband's hand and said "My treat" and met our waitress at the counter to pay for it. I pointed out the lady sitting alone and asked the waitress to put her food on our bill.

She said, "You don't have to do that."

"Yes I do" I told her, "Go ahead and put it on my bill."

"No" she said, "You don't have to do that because she eats here for free."

"Really?"

"Yes, the owner lets her eat for free."

I was dumbfounded. I looked back at this lady sitting alone at the table and thought not many restaurants would even let her sit inside with their paying customers but here, at Shamrock City, not only was she welcome, she ate for free!

I could only think that the owner, like my Mother, knew what hard times were like. He must also look at this lady and think "There but for the Grace of God go I."

I went back to my table. The lady was standing and putting her coat back on. She reached into her pocket and took out her change. She picked out a toonie and laid it on the table, then quietly walked out.

The families of the children performing were erupting in applause as a song ended. Families all there to support their children. I watched the blond haired lady walk down Water Street wondering if she had family.

My Mother would look at a lady like that and say "Somebody did something to her that made her life turn out like that. No one chooses to be that way."

  I watched her disappear into a crowd of tourists and thought to myself, "There but for the Grace of God go I."