I had to finish my community service hour requirements for a club I’m in at school. My mom and sister and I were stained with meats and potatoes and vegetables on our red aprons that said Potluck in the Park. People came and went for hours as we stayed motionless. Their lives went on in a matter of fifteen minutes but mine stayed in this red apron.


My arms became sore and my feet were seeping into the soles of my shoes like quicksand. I had to walk. I began running tables; bringing silverware and drinks and desserts in those fifteen minute increments that people were as motionless as I. I began to learn their names, but not as quickly as they learned mine.


It was Christmas Day and I was wearing a Santa hat with a nametag that said Hi my name is KAYLA. I’m surprised it didn’t take shorter to remember my name; I was the only girl who was wearing a Santa hat with a genuine smile on my face. No, I wasn’t necessarily enjoying myself, my shoes had been worn to scraps and my arms became limp by my body. I was smiling because I only had an hour more. How horrible.


My weakened arms weren’t able to carry cups of water or plates of gingerbread without the risk of toppling over. I began brainstorming ways for me to get out of my misery: run away, go to the bathroom, emergency phone call. But to my dismay, my mom was still in earshot and she could deny all these things.


“‘Cuse me, can I get a cup o’ water. I am thirsty.” Okay. Okay, something to do. I, being the immature teenager I am, walked to the cup stand, lifted my cup above my head and balanced it so my arms could get the rest that the rest of my body so desperately needed. I knelt down and the man took the cup off my head. The leader of this red apron program was looking at me with eyes looking right into my brain that I don’t think she thought I had. Well, the customer is always right, and I couldn’t agree more.


“That was sellar. Fantastic. Bravo,” he said as he stood up and clapped his glove covered hands and gave me a standing ovation. I remember feeling excited and welcomed and not at the gates of hell for the first time today. It’s Christmas for Christ’s sake.


We began talking, he asked me what school I went to, what I wanted to be when I growed up. Not only did this man know my name was KAYLA, he now knew everything that my teachers and counselors and coaches knew, too. I think he felt “fit in” at this fact. I liked that feeling.


He began to tell me how he was a war veteran. He fought for sixteen years and came home after his wife had two children. He told me the story of how his wife moved in with her parents and his kids followed because he had no money after the war. He told me how he always wanted to be a teacher, and how he never earned his high school diploma. He told me how he’s planning on going to high school in the next couple of years, to graduate and to finally earn his diploma.

And with that, the hour was over and I’ve never smiled wider.


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