Eggs Over Easy with a Side of Humility


Janet Stiegler , Brunswick Forest

At 15, I thought it would be glamorous to work as a waitress. What could be better? You deliver delectable plates of food to customers, and they leave you with nice tips for your service. In those days, we didn’t have the Internet or LinkedIn. Instead, you looked in the want ads and knocked on doors. And that is what I did—walked up and down our town’s main avenue knocking on doors. Eventually, a middle-aged Greek man named Spiro hired me to work at his diner after school and on weekends.

At first, I worked with another girl who smoked cigarettes between customers and was confident at the cash register. After two evenings, she was gone. When I asked Spiro where she was, he claimed she was taking from the till. Whether this was true or not, I don’t know, but I was grateful he kept the novice.

One day a customer ordered a chocolate egg cream. I had no idea what that was, so Spiro came over and showed me what to do. After putting a few squirts of chocolate syrup (or vanilla for vanilla egg creams) in a glass, add a bit of milk, then stir vigorously with soda water. It makes a nice little foam on top. When I asked when you added the egg, he laughed. Good thing I didn’t try to make one without his instruction!

Another day I was stacking a tray of freshly washed glasses and dropped the tray. Surrounded by broken glass and a counter of onlookers, I started to cry, but Spiro didn’t seem concerned. The next day, I brought two boxes of Schaeffer beer glasses to compensate for the loss. Since the diner did not serve alcohol, he could not use them, but he was nevertheless touched by my sincerity.

At Spiro’s Diner, I got to know the regulars. They became something of a family, sharing their highs and lows. A single guy with hair like Larry on the Three Stooges came on Tuesday nights for the split pea soup. An elderly couple shuffled in once a week for hamburgers; the husband was so feeble he had me cut his burger and bun into fourths. After a while, I did so without his having to ask.

Probably the most memorable couple came after church each Sunday. They always ordered the same thing—a Western omelet with fried hash. After a while, we would have it ready just as they pulled into the parking lot. One Sunday, Spiro noticed he had run out of canned hash and had me run across the street to the grocery store to get some. We could not disappoint them! The couple’s booth was always filled with giggles, so Spiro assumed they were not married. Being young and naive, I thought he was cynical, but he was right. The woman was a widow, and the man divorced. An integral part of their courtship, we attended their wedding.

Of course, not everyone was so pleasant. One boy would show up with different girls each week and make out in a back booth. He generally ordered cokes or French fries and never left a tip. Instead, he would loosen the top of the sugar dispenser or turn the ketchup upside down (without the lid) so I’d have a nice mess to clean up afterward. Thankfully, such customers were the exception.

I started out making just 75 cents an hour plus tips. Sometimes I went home with only $5, and other times as much as $20. This first job allowed me to pay for room and board at college, which, at the time, was still affordable without a loan. It gave me confidence and a humbling appreciation of working in the service industry, an experience from which everyone would benefit.

Image by Denise Husted from Pixabay