In 1989, I unexpectedly lost my job at the Wonder Bread factory. I had two young sons, seven and eight, growing boys always hungry. Times were kind of tough, and I didn’t know how we were going to have enough food for them.
Sometimes, we would go down to the local Chinese restaurant where I knew the head waitress. Her name was Lilly. Lilly knew I wasn’t doing too well. So when she’d see me and my sons come in she would go back in the back, and come out with all kinds of Chinese food. She never once asked me to pay.
I’ve eaten at that restaurant hundreds of times as a paying customer, and Lilly and I became good friends.
Two summers ago, I was at the restaurant when Lilly suddenly collapsed. Paramedics tried to revive her, then rushed her away. I learned the next day that Lilly had died. She wasn’t even 60 years old.
At the funeral, I told everyone how Lilly had helped my family and made me feel like I had dignity and respect in front of my kids. I told Lilly’s kids how proud she was of them, how she talked about them all the time. I told them that their mother was loved and that she touched people’s lives in ways they may have never known. It was hard for me to stand up there and talk. Nobody knew my story, and I stuck out as the only black man in a Chinese service. But I did it, because I wanted the people who loved Lilly to know the difference she’d made in the lives around her.