After serving a “grumpy” veteran for years, the waitress, who always did her best to deal with his mean demeanor and multiple demands, was surprised when the regular customer seemingly vanished. Then, she got a strange call she will never forget.
Melina Salazar had been working at the Luby’s in Brownsville, Texas, for over 16 years when life as she knew it was suddenly changed, thanks to a rather difficult “regular.” For seven years, she was often scolded by the same elderly customer, who often ate at Luby’s alone. His name was Walter “Buck” Swords, and he was a World World II veteran. To say that he was cantankerous is a bit of an understatement.
Buck was fussy in his old age. In fact, many would even say the war hero was downright mean with the staff, sometimes cursing at the servers. He was notorious for being grumpy, bristly, and particular. He wanted things just so, and he was adamant that his food should be served at a steaming hot temperature. “He wanted the food very hot, it didn’t matter if he burned himself,” Melina recalled.
Day after day and year after year, Melina did her best to fulfill all of Buck’s demands, which were many. Over time, Melina became the only server who had the patience to deal with Buck, his picky habits, many complaints, and overall bad attitude.
Buck would eat at Luby’s on a regular basis, and Melina would always be his server since others refused. It wasn’t easy to serve the old man, but Melina was determined to take care of him just like she would any other customer. Even when Buck wasn’t very nice, Melina was patient and understanding.
Melina didn’t pay much attention to Buck’s mean side. Instead, she complied with his many requests, serving his meals exactly as he preferred and always with a smile. She never grew angry with him and his demands or gave him any attitude. The relationship worked for the pair. But, then, Buck just stopped coming into Luby’s one day.
Although his antics caused the other wait staff to dread his presence, Melina took notice when he suddenly went missing. Soon, she discovered why the regular had vanished without a word. While perusing her local paper, she saw Walter M. “Buck” Swords printed in bold capital letters in the obituary section. Buck had passed away at the age of 89, but this would not be the last Melina Salazar would hear from him.
After she grieved quietly and moved on, Buck sent Melina Salazar a message from beyond the grave many months later when she eventually received the news that she had been included in Buck’s will. The grumpy old man had left $50,000 and his car to the only person who interacted with him and treated him kindly in his final years.
Melina Salazar had shown the veteran respect and kindness, and he had rewarded her for it, much to her utter shock and surprise. “I couldn’t believe it. I’m so nervous. I still can’t believe it,” Melina admitted in an interview before offering some words of advice to her fellow servers out there: “Just smile and be nice.”
We always hear that we don’t know what someone else is going through, but this story also reminds us that we can never truly know the heart of someone else either. The “grumpy” veteran was actually a giving and kind man who just wanted things his way after a long life in which he served others. That doesn’t seem like a lot to ask when we look at it that way.
Melina Salazar realized that her job was to serve even the most difficult of customers with a smile on her face. Her patience with the “difficult” old man paid off. Others in service industries could learn from her example. It’s not our job to decide whether someone is worthy of kindness. Rather, everyone should be treated with as much patience as we can muster. It could be the only kindness that person has in their life at the time.