Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Ned Will Take your Tray.

Ned Helmsey was the head custodian at Confederacy Primary School in Cloverdale. He suffered a minor stroke last year while cleaning the cafeteria floor after a busy, messy lunch. A numbness went through the left side of his body as he mopped under table 4. The sound of the mop handle hitting the tile floor alerted the cafeteria manageress. She looked up in time to see him fall to the wet floor. Paramedics arrived shortly thereafter.

That day was Ned’s last day at Confederacy Elementary School.

Ned recovered well enough to walk with the aid of a cane. He has regained the use of his left arm and hand. He considers it a blessing and thanks God every morning he wakes for another day.

Ned is classified ‘Disabled’ by the Confederacy and receives a monthly pension from Social Welfare. A district nurse checks on him every other day. Ned barely gets by financially with his pension and a bit of savings set aside for old age. He can’t drive so there are no car expenses. His small two bedroom home is paid for so there are no house payments. He is a widower so there is no wife to support. Even at that there are some months when its difficult to eat and fill his prescriptions. He can’t work because of his age and disability but with a bit of creative thinking he’s found a way to cover at least one meal per day.

Ned leaves the house at 11:00 A.M. most mornings. With the help of his cane he walks slowly and carefully down the High Street. He takes one step with his right leg, then drags his partially mobile left leg into position where it can support some of his weight with the cane’s help. Once balanced on the cane and left leg, his right leg steps forward again and the laborious process continues, sending Ned forward ever so slowly.

Ned’s final destination is Cloverdale’s Wimpy Burger. He arrives just as the lunch rush begins. He smiles and waves to the manager. The manager gives him the thumbs up. Ned is good to start.

Ned sits near the door. The manager brings a glass of cold water to his table and pats him on the back.
“What will it be today?” he asks.
“Well, I’m partial to the grilled chicken sandwich meal for myself and, if its OK with you, a double cheese burger meal for a friend of mine that can’t get out much.” Ned isn’t one to share personal information, being a very private man. The manager doesn’t pry.
“Ask for me at the register when you’re ready to go.” The manager taps the table top with his hand in parting.

Ned watches as the lunch rush quickly fills the restaurant. He surrenders his table when no others are available for the paying customers. He picks up his cane, stands, and walks to the two trash cans near the south doors. The stack of blue plastic meal trays is growing. With his right hand he picks up several of them, turns, and delivers them to the end of the serving counter. Ned takes his time. He must be careful not to trip. One injury and the manager could get into trouble. He wouldn’t want that. The manager has been good to him.

Ned spends the next hour going from door to door gathering the meal trays and stacking them on the front counter. If its a slower lunch, Ned will sit and enjoy his cold water. He watches the trays from his table and is back on his feet promptly if any stack goes higher than five. As an added service, Ned alerts the staff at the cash register know when a trash can needs to be emptied. He would gladly do it himself but couldn’t manage a heavy trash bag with his bum leg and cane.

When the last of the lunch trays are returned to the counter, Ned calls for the manager. The manager taps one of the servers on the shoulder and points to Ned. Ned’s order is taken. A few minutes later Ned is on his way with two Wimpy lunches. One for himself and one for his new friend Eunice. She doesn’t get out much and so enjoys seeing Ned most days coming up her walk with a nice lunch in hand.

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