Looking back, it was the best summer job I’ve ever had. That’s saying a lot. If you’re like me, the words “summer job” may be synonymous with, “I need to finish college.” The random jobs I’ve had during summer breaks have not only allowed me to earn money, but have also motivated me to get a degree, so I can hopefully enter a field of work I’d enjoy more than telemarketing, insurance, or pizza-making.
This particular summer, however, was full of fun conversations, 50s music, and fruit juice…prune juice to be exact. On one occasion, the customer requested warm prune juice, but nobody deserves to hear that story. I know I’m scarred for life just from serving it. So what type of job would require me to serve warm prune juice? A retirement home.
My summer was spent setting out fresh coffee, taking orders, serving meals, and resetting the tables for the following meal. I learned a lot during this job that has been ever so beneficial in my daily life. I learned a special way to fold napkins so they cascade out of a wine glass. I learned that Lorna would keep asking for refills on her white wine until someone stopped her. But most importantly, I learned that our stereotypes of elderly folks are pretty accurate. Senior citizens fit into one or more of a few categories laid out by society in America.
Some are hard of hearing. No, I take that back. Most are hard of hearing. I was reminded of this daily as I had to constantly repeat the lunch special or list the desserts for the evening.
“Today’s special is smoked salmon with rice pilaf.”
“I’m letting you know that today for lunch, we are serving salmon and rice pilaf.”
“Are we having rice?”
Ok Bob, there is no way I could have articulated that any clearer or louder. Let’s try this again.
“YES, WE HAVE RICE AND SALMON.”
“I’ll have a cup of chicken noodle soup.”
Of course you will. Glad we just spent the last five minutes clearing up the fact that salmon is indeed on the menu.
While hearing is an ever-present issue, some residents are also grumpy. I quickly found that prevention is key. Before the three amigos at table twenty-two could even begin their gossiping about waitresses, I learned quickly that decaf coffee, signified by a red heart sticker on the carafe, should be fresh and on the table before they got there. Pretty soon, I was on their good side and had won them over.
There are some problems that are out of your control as a waitress, and yet, you take the brunt of the complaints as if you were solely responsible for making the menu, preparing the food, and reading the ticket order.
One of my favorites was when a resident motioned me to come over and began her laborious speech about how the bacon was always so greasy. Her realistic suggestion for the chef, who of course had nothing better to do, was to personally dab a napkin on each piece. I took that suggestion back to the chef and we both had a good laugh.
Oh, and if the dessert doesn’t have some form of apple in it, you might as well gear up for some serious post-dinner blues. But when the regular dessert and the sugar-free option are apple pie…you’ll be the residents’ hero for the evening! Until table nineteen takes the last piece and you timidly walk to table twenty, trying your best salesmanship techniques for the sugar-free lime Jell-O.
I can put up with grumpy customers and the lack of hearing because of residents like Juanita. She’s one of those residents who I always desired to work hard for. She requested strawberries and a bag of Lays potato chips to take with her after every lunch. If strawberries were not in, then red grapes were a close second. I loved when I was put on section two for work, since that was Juanita’s section. Every time I saw her scooting into the dining room, I’d head straight for the kitchen to grab her requested fruit and chips. She didn’t even have to ask me. “Thank you, dear” was the sweet greeting I’d receive, with a small, shaky hand over my arm as I began to take her order–although, there was really no need for me to ask her–since Juanita faithfully chose a half-order of the special (unless it was fish).
Serving people like Juanita is what made this my favorite summer job. Of course, another reason was because I always had entertaining stories to tell my family at dinner after any ordinary day at work. One such story was when a resident proudly explained to me that a special breakfast sandwich was invented especially for her. Toasted English muffin, scrambled egg, sausage, and cheese. (So…like an Egg McMuffin? Don’t worry, I didn’t burst her bubble. She probably still thinks it was made up for her!)
The monotonous work and grumbles are not what I remember from that summer. Instead, it’s the relationships I built with elderly folks who I would never have met otherwise, the sweet smiles, and the entertaining conversations that I’ll remember most from this temporary summer job. That, and the sugar-free lime Jell-O.