My late father, Tom Hood, was born in Texas in 1911. He later remembered, although he was only a boy at the time, how World War I influenced the financial stability of his family. Still later, when he was a young man trying to raise a family World War II came along and again took a toll on his finances. He never complained about, and in fact seemed quite content to live a middle-class life.
My father's brother, Shorty Hood, upon returning from World War II, opened a restaurant in Cedar Hill, Texas. Most of the family worked in the restaurant. My mother was the manager at the restaurant for over 25 years. My brother and I washed dishes and my sister waited tables. My dad painted highway signs for the restaurant and did whatever maintenance was required.
Shorty's Cafe was located on a busy highway in a rural community of farmers and a few ranchers, mostly coffee drinkers. The regulars hardly ever tipped, partially due to a lack of funds and mostly because of ignorance of the wages paid to wait staff at the time. The diners tended to be tourists, traveling salespeople or politicians on their way from Dallas to the state capitol in Austin. We were always happy when a bus of tourists pulled up. Although we knew we would be running ragged waiting on the tables and then cleaning up afterwards, we could always count on enough tips to make the day financially rewarding.
One evening in the late 1940's, my dad and I had stopped by Shorty's to pick up my mother after work. She was busy and explained that she would be another 10 minutes or so. My father and I sat down at the long counter, ordered coffee to drink and made small talk with Juanita, the waitress.
Shortly, my mother emerged from the back with purse in hand and announced that she was ready to go home. Dad and I finished off our coffee, pushed the cups away and arose from the counter. It was customary that we, as family members and employees of the restaurant, never paid for meals or drinks. Much to my surprise, Dad reached into his pocket and pulled out a dollar and slid it across the counter towards the Juanita. Their eyes met, Dad nodded his head and said, "Thanks, Juanita!" To which, Juanita replied, "Thank you, Tom!"
When we got in the car to head home, my amazement turned into bewilderment as I asked Dad, "Why did you give the waitress a dollar tip for two five cent cups of coffee?"
My father smiled at my mom and gave her a wink and told me, "Son, waitresses work hard for their money, son. Always tip them well ."
This evening, as is my habit on Fridays, I go to my neighborhood grocery, a half block from my home here in Cuernavaca for tacos. The grocery is always filled with people from the neighborhood and taxi drivers who stop by to get a coke or snack as they drive by. It also serves as a community social spot, where neighbors greet each other and exchange pleasantries. I go to the grocery store almost daily to buy fresh vegetables, meat, cheese, and other necessities, and so I get to spend quality time with my neighbors who I might not other wise see, as we all live behind stone walls.
During the day, I will see Helen, the owner of the grocery carefully selecting the best cuts of meat from the display case, seasoning the meat just so, and cooking it to perfection. Late each afternoon, a girl from the neighborhood, will handmake the tacos to order for the hundreds of people who stop by to buy tacos for their family or to sit at the tables and enjoy with a chilled coke. Atop and in front of the stainless steel stove on the sidewalk in front of the grocery are all the condiments that go with the tacos; freshly diced onions, chopped cilantro, sliced radishes and cucumbers, and of course lemon wedges to drizzle on the tacos. There are a choice of three wonderful salsas to choose from; one green and two red that will spice up the meal.
I get a large chilled apple juice from the drink display at the rear of the store, and move to the checkout counter where Helen or one of her sons tallies up the groceries and put them into bags to carry home. It is a thriving little store and there is always a line. When it is my turn, I am always greeted with, "¡Buenas noches, Don Guillermo! After the exchange of the evening pleasantries where I ask about their family and wish them well, I place my order for four tacos. A small slip of paper is produced to give to the girl who makes the tacos, "4 tacos, sin cebolla, para comer aquí." (4 tacos without onions to eat here). The cost is $40 pesos ($2.30 USD) including the large apple juice. As I am used to paying that much for the apple juice alone in the United States, in my way of thinking the tacos are free of cost.
After greeting the girl who will prepare my tacos and handing her the slip, I find a comfortable seat at one of the tables, which might be shared with a neighbor or another diner that I have yet to meet, in which case I'm given the opportunity of making a new friend. A few minutes later the girl brings my order to the table and always asks if they are prepared to my liking. Nodding my agreement I state, "¡Sí, son perfectos! Gracias!" (Yes, they are perfect! Thank you!). One of the little pleasures about living in Mexico is that people are so kind and always caring!
When I finish my meal and return the dish to the girl, and remember the lesson from my late father, I hand her $10 pesos ($0.76 USD) as a tip, which she seldom sees from others in the neighborhood. She always blushes and thanks me profusely as $10 pesos may be more than 1/5th of her daily income. I passed on the words of my father - "Usted trabaja duro por su dinero! Agradezco la atención extra. ¡Gracias!" You work hard for your money! I appreciate the extra attention. Thank you!
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