49: Staff Lunch

49: Staff Lunch

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: The Power of Positive

Staff Lunch

We cannot live only for ourselves. A thousand fibers connect us with our fellow men.

~Herman Melville

The 100-year-old red brick building I worked in a few years ago was half a block long and two stories high, with twelve-inch thick walls. Our landlord Wilbur had owned it for forty years.

Several different businesses were renting space there then. There was the non-profit I worked for and a working art gallery with five artists. An electrical distributing company had a small space and there was an antique and collectibles store. The most profitable business was an interstate wholesale distributing company that sold products that outfitted hardware stores.

In the basement, with its massive wood beams, was Wilbur’s workshop and spaces for folks to rent dry storage space. In a little space in the top of the building Wilbur had carved out a tiny apartment for his residence when he was in town.

As he grew older, folks noticed he spent more time at the building instead of his other homes. His grown children were suggesting that he consolidate his holdings and move to an assisted living facility. They were alarmed by his increasing health issues. They thought it would be easier to watch out for him if he lived closer to one of them, and they also wanted him to monetize his assets.

We folks in the big red brick building were concerned about Wilbur too. His long distance family wasn’t going to take better care of him or improve their relationship with him if he moved closer; they just wanted life to be easier. And what would Wilbur do without his beloved basement workshop?

Our answer came rather accidently. Wilbur usually “took his meals” at a local café. He had oatmeal for breakfast, a hot meal at lunch (it was called dinner when he grew up on the farm he told us), and a sandwich for supper. Often he would buy a large fruit pie and that was his meal for the day. Folks knew he wasn’t eating well and would ask him if they could “zap” him something. Most often he would refuse even when he liked what was offered, which was puzzling.

One day several of us non-profit folks were sitting down to lunch. We had forsaken our brown bag lunches for what we found in the refrigerator. There had been a big event the night before and some sweet soul had wrapped up the leftovers. Wilbur happened by to use the copy machine, a first-of-the-month event that happened when he collected rent checks.

“Hey, Wilbur, we have leftovers from that big shindig last night. Why don’t you join us for lunch?” It took a little arm twisting but by the time the food was on the table, Wilbur had washed his hands. “That workshop is a dirty place,” he told us as we sat down. Lunch was delicious (probably because someone else made it). It was a pleasant forty-five minutes before Wilbur excused himself. “Got to get back to the workshop,” he said, “there’s a project calling my name.”

Pretty soon our staff had Wilbur for “staff lunch” twice a week. Word got around the building and in no time the other businesses were asking him to join them for a noon hot meal. “Staff Lunch” became the code word for a hot meal with others. Wilbur ate with a different tenant each weekday. He would apologize saying he could eat with us only once a week. “You know, I can’t disappoint them,” he would say.

Once in a while Wilbur would throw his own hot “staff lunch” for the entire building. The grocery store had a little deli that helped. Of course he would have his “staff lunch” on Saturdays so everyone’s family could attend. And that way he wouldn’t have to disappoint anyone by missing one of his weekday lunches.

Conversation built community. Funny thing, Wilbur’s health issues became less frequent and less severe when they happened. Folks traded recipes and clothes their kids had outgrown, vegetables and home baked goodies appeared and we got to know each other better.

It is definitely arguable as to who benefited most from those lunch relationships — Wilbur or people like me who worked in Wilbur’s building — the building that had become his real home.

~Pamela Gilsenan

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