Over ten years ago, Barb and I, along with several others from our church, started a program we called Operation Encouragement. The objective of the program was to pray for, communicate with and send care packages to the men and women serving in our Armed Services. Included in the objective was to encourage other members of the congregation to join us. I chaired the committee and the Assistant Pastor was vital in attending our monthly meetings and providing guidance in making the committee a success. The committee started when we had many more troops fighting in the Middle East. There were only a handful of Service Members from our church in the Middle East. However, over the years, the program spread to include Service members stationed anywhere in the world and through word of mouth the number grew to a total of 38 Service members.

Some of the Service members we seldom heard from but we frequently were updated by their relatives. A few, because of their responsibilities, their status, etc. it was a bit difficult to keep current with them. Then, we had some very gregarious members who kept in almost constant touch with us. Such was the case of a Marine by the name of Jeremy. Even though he was in the field in the Middle East, when he returned to base camp, he was a prolific emailer, with an apparent huge distribution list. So many people fell in love with Jeremy just because he was Jeremy. I remember when he and I first started to communicate via email, he addressed me as Mr. Hall. I told him to call me Jeff. He told me he was uncomfortable calling me by my first name because he was in his early twenties. I think I won the disagreement by telling him if he was old enough to put his life on the line in the Middle East, he was old enough to call me Jeff.

Jeremy survived two deployments to Iraq and in between deployments and other times when he was on leave he visited our church several times. One time I received a call from our Assistant Pastor, who advised me Jeremy was available to go to lunch with us. I said I would be glad to attend the lunch but he needed to agree that I would pay for it. Without not too much arm-twisting, he agreed and we set a date. Since Jeremy wanted to bring a fellow Marine, with whom he was stationed in Iraq, our small party numbered four. For the most part when Barb and I eat out, we may “fast food it” or go to a diner. To splurge, we may go to Oliver Garden. Since this was a special occasion, fast food was obviously out. However, I thought we could go to Ruby Tuesdays or a similar restaurant.

We had a refined, elegant widow at church that found out we were taking the two Marines out to lunch. She practically demanded that we take our guests to the General Warren Inn, in Malvern. She harped on this so much that it was felt that she not only had some connection with the restaurant but she was going to pick up the tab! I had never eaten at the restaurant (generally above my pay grade), but decided since she was so persistent, we would follow her instructions. Both Jeremy and his friend arrived in their Marine dress uniforms. We had a grand time at the restaurant and near the end of the meal our Assistant Pastor began to excuse himself for a minute. I said: “before you leave, we should decide whether or not we are going to order dessert.” He replied: “It’s up to you. You’re paying.” All of a sudden, the meal didn’t taste quite so good (my saying is that a free meal always tastes the best). I swallowed hard and knowing I had my credit card with me that we might as well go “whole hog”.

The lunch cost over $100! I waited and waited for our waitress, Rose, to deliver the check. Finally, I asked her to come to the table, at which time I asked for the check. She said the check had already been PAID! Now the meal tasted perfect. When I got home, I wrote a two page letter to the widow at church thanking her profusely for the lunch and even told her that Barb and I would have to take her to the restaurant for a meal. Later, I found out that the widow had not paid for the meal. Now I was perplexed.

Our wedding anniversary was several weeks after our luncheon so I made a dinner reservation for Barb and me. I also asked to have Rose as our waitress. Rose remembered us and I explained the entire story to her, saying I have no idea who paid for the meal. Rose told me that another waitress in the adjacent room had paid for the entire bill. Rose introduced me to the waitress and I asked her why she would do such a nice thing. She told me she likes to donate to good causes but she likes to see her gifts being used/enjoyed and not being wasted. She wasn’t totally successful because I’m sure the meal did go to my waist.

The results of the waitress’ kindness: I wrote a thank you note to the waitress, wrote a letter to the manager of the restaurant to let him know what kind of special employees he has, and I have taken Barb to our anniversary dinner there several times (the last one was about two weeks before this writing). Rose left the restaurant some years ago. However, when we eat at the restaurant, I see the waitress who paid for the meal and still give her a big thank you and a hug.

* MRE: “Meal Ready-to-Eat” – A self-contained, individual field ration supplied by the United States military for its Service members for use in combat or other field conditions where organized food facilities are not available. http://vietnamwar.wikia.com/wiki/Meal,_Ready-to-Eat.

Now, I guess you can understand the title of the column.

Jeff Hall, of Honey Brook, contributes columns to Berks-Mont Newspapers. Questions/commentsmay be directed to jeffreyhall77@comcast.net

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