A Silent Memory

By Susan Judd


She silently enters the restaurant, abiding by the sign that says, “Please Seat Yourself” and makes her way slowly to a booth on the side away from the bright sunlight streaming through the windows. She nervously glances around, smiling at the toddler who is moving at a break-neck pace around the tables, happily waving his sippy cup in the air.

I notice this woman, first for her smile and then I look again. She reminds me a lot of my mother with her cautious, unassuming mannerisms. She notices me noticing her, and she returns my gaze. I smile at her and look down at the menu.

There are a lot of choices at this restaurant. Breakfast is served all day. We are at mid-morning, too late for the early bird specials. My husband and I order our usual omelets, no toast. He has coffee; I drink a diet soda.

The woman in the booth reads the menu with the scrutiny of an attorney. I have to admit that I’m curious about what she’ll order. Her server returns and after a brief consultation, she decides on a chicken sandwich. She is stymied by the huge selection of side items. No, she doesn’t want French fries (that would be my choice) or chips. She shakes her head at the idea of a fruit cup or melon slices. Finally, at the server’s suggestion, she orders a side of coleslaw. Once again she is smiling, as if pleased by her choices.

I try not to, but I keep staring. Her resemblance to my late mother is uncanny. She has the same fair complexion, the same hairstyle (not too short but the basic Mom look), the same fashionable but not too ultra clothes for a “mature” woman. Yet it’s not her appearance that reminds me of my dear mom, but her mannerisms.

She smiles again at the wayward toddler and his tired-looking young mother. She smiles at a group of women about her age. For a moment, I think that they might ask her to join them at their round table. But they just keep talking.

The breakfast crowd clears and customers seeking an early lunch begin to trickle in. I keep waiting for someone to join her, but no one does. Her food arrives and she grins at the server. I watch as she takes tiny bites and daintily wipes her mouth from left to right, just like my mother always did.

I’m glad that she’s enjoying her food.

Time with my husband is precious but I still feel that I should have asked this woman to join us. She seems so outwardly happy yet so alone. It breaks my heart to watch her look up every time the door to the restaurant opens.

There is something I can do for her. I hand the server a 10-dollar bill and tell her that I’d like to pay for the woman’s food. Anonymously, of course. I add a $2 tip and a word of thanks.

I think about my mother the rest of the day.

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