The Pine Tree

The Pine Tree

From Chicken Soup for the Grandma's Soul

The Pine Tree

Whatever you would have your children become, strive to exhibit in your own lives and conversation.

Lydia H. Sigourney

The Pine Tree Restaurant was a landmark in Bangor, Maine, for over forty years. Located in the heart of downtown and adjacent to the Greyhound bus station, it served regulars and transients from all walks of life. Boasting typical diner fare, the restaurant’s food was good. The desserts were homemade and ample. However, many years after the Pine Tree closed, I learned that the customers didn’t always visit for the food.

Natalie Greer was a tall, rail-thin waitress. Her uniforms were white and crisply starched and always adorned with complementing handkerchief and pin. She wore long sleeves year-round, as her skinny arms made her self-conscious. Proficient at her job, she worked at the Pine Tree for twenty-seven years.

Widowed in her forties, Nat raised six children on her wages and tips. Never one to complain, she provided her family with their needs and more. A smile always graced the face of this attractive waitress, and gentlemen frequently asked her out on dates. Never even considering remarrying, she turned them down with a smile and a style and grace generally reserved for those of a higher social stature.

Kindness was this waitress’s forte. From the wealthiest of customers to the lowliest of kitchen help, Nat treated everyone the same. She looked after those who had difficulty with their jobs there, and she often stayed late teaching them tricks of the trade. In performing this kindness, she made countless friends.

When Nat was finally forced to retire due to complications from asthma, her many friends she’d made throughout the years came to visit her frequently, bearing homemade treats or invitations to go out to lunch or for a Sunday drive. She cherished these moments as she had cherished these friends.

“How about a nice hot cup of tea and a cookie?” was her standard greeting to those who called.

For years she kept in touch with customers and fellow employees from the Pine Tree. Even in old age, she remained close to many of them. Strewn throughout the Bangor area, they managed to get together occasionally, thanks to one of Nat’s daughters and the introduction of senior citizens’ transit to the region.

When Nat died in December, 1999, at the age of eighty-two, a few of those same customers and employees attended her funeral. After the service, some offered a few kind words to the family.

“You know,” one elderly gentleman said, “the food was never that great. But Nat could make you feel like a million bucks.”

“I’ll miss Nat,” a well-dressed lady said. “She could brighten anyone’s day.”

“Didn’t she always look nice, with her hair fixed just so, and those pretty pins she wore,” another said.

“I liked to go in on rainy days,” a portly gentleman remarked. “She could make me feel the sun through all the clouds.”

The comments continued in cards and letters.

“When I was broke, Nat would always remind me that if I had my health, I had everything. As I got older I understood how true her words were.”

“It’s not how much you have, it’s what you do with it that counts. Nat gave so much from having so little.”

Nat never owned a home and she never drove a car. In fact, she never acquired much in the way of material wealth at all. She was, however, richer than most of us will ever be—for she knew how to look at the positives in life, and she found them in so many unexpected places.

One of the places she found them was in me, her granddaughter. And for many years, I, too, was a waitress. Using the lessons my grandmother taught me, I refused to look at my job as one of triviality, and instead used it as an outlet to reach out to others. I made wonderful friends. I helped people who needed a hand in a variety of situations. And I gained a self-confidence and ease with myself that years later allowed me to pursue my dreams.

My grandmother didn’t leave me a trust fund. She didn’t leave expensive jewelry or heirlooms I’ll pass from generation to generation. What she left me is worth so much more. She instilled in me as a very young child that a person’s worth isn’t determined by the money they have or the job they perform. It’s in the person. No matter how rich or poor, or how highly educated, everyone deserves the dignity of being treated with kindness and consideration. I hope I leave to my children and grandchildren but a fraction of the legacy my grandmother left to me.

Kimberly Ripley

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