Unexpected Gifts: Sometimes There Is Such a Thing as a Free Lunch


The summer Papa Toad and I traveled out to Oregon from New York, before we had kids, we lived out of our car. The back seat held most of our worldly possessions, including three plants that we brought successfully from New York to Oregon. I had the trunk packed perfectly so that our camping gear and climbing gear were easily accessible. With little savings and no jobs for three months, we lived frugally, camping or staying with friends along the way. After more than two months on the road, we were in beautiful Pinedale, WY. For a radical and fun change of pace, we decided to splurge in an uncharacteristic and shamelessly self-indulgent way and go out for lunch, spending money we didn’t have and putting it on our credit card. We knew that in a couple of weeks we would be gainfully employed again, and we were tired of cookstove camp fare.

We ordered appetizers. We ordered beers. We got dessert. We had cappuccinos. We ate and drank and had a great time. Papa Toad and I were enjoying ourselves mightily. The waitress was charming and made us laugh, the afternoon was filled with golden light and we were filled up to the brim with the pleasure of living.

An older couple sat outside near our table, and she and I could see each other. I saw her looking at us, and we throughout the meal we exchanged pleasant glances and smiles that seemed to say that we were both happy and enjoying life, and felt a kinship as we did so. As we were eating our dessert, the couple got up to leave. The woman and I nodded good-bye to each other, and they went out. I could see them get into their truck, then noticed that the lady went back into the restaurant briefly. I thought nothing of it, she came back to the truck quickly, and they drove off.

A short while later, we asked for our check. The waitress told us that the older couple had taken care of it, covering our big blowout meal from soup to nuts. The gentleman, she explained, was the son of the naturalist and writer Aldo Leopold, who wrote A Sand County Almanac. The couple enjoyed watching us so much that they desired to give us this unexpected gift, and asked that in return we read his father’s book.

Immediately we headed to a used book store in town where we bought this:

It was 24 years ago this summer, but we still remember and appreciate that unexpected gift.

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There are 8 comments.

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  1. WillowSpring Member

    Wonderful story and a great book.  I read it a long time ago, but this makes me want to dig it out (or get it on Kindle) and read it again.

    • #1
  2. Stad Coolidge

    Road trips . . . not only do you get so see how magnificent our country is, but also the people.  Yeah, you’ll run into jerks – they’re everywhere – but the chatty waitress or the friendly guy at the motel check-in make it all worthwhile.

    Nice post!

    • #2
  3. PHCheese Inactive

    MrsCheese volunteers at the local hospital and was given free tickets to a  oyster roast. We don’t eat oysters but wanted to go to see other people from the hospital. There was a line for tickets so I gave the tickets to a person waiting in line. She heartily thanked me.We felt good and so did she.

    • #3
  4. The Great Adventure! Inactive
    The Great Adventure!

    Cool story – and happy the two of you didn’t die on the Oregon Trail!!!

    • #4
  5. Shauna Hunt Coolidge
    Shauna Hunt

    What a touching story! Thank you for sharing the goodness of others.

    • #5
  6. Clifford A. Brown Contributor
    Clifford A. Brown

    On this weekend, we have been gifted a much needed story of the kindness of (some) strangers.

    This conversation is part of our Group Writing Series under the March 2019 Group Writing Theme: Unexpected Gifts. There are plenty of dates still available. Tell us about anything from a hidden talent to a white elephant. Share a great surprise or memorable failure (oh, you shouldn’t have!). Our schedule and sign-up sheet awaits.

    April’s theme will be posted after the Ides of March.

    • #6
  7. Phil Turmel Coolidge
    Phil Turmel

    My wife and I sureptiously picked up the check for a pair of nuns outside Lourdes one day, except that we didn’t manage to get away before they discovered it.  A memorable day. (-:

    • #7
  8. Richard Finlay Inactive
    Richard Finlay

    The exact same thing just happened to us in Kingsport, Tennessee!

    Well, except for being old instead of young, of course.

    And not being alone because our daughter was along.

    And not directly benefiting because our daughter was treating us.

    And nobody made eye contact; we had to ask who dunnit when the waitress told us about it.

    And, it wasn’t quite free, because he picked up our check before we ordered dessert, so we (by which I mean our daughter) had to pay for that.

    And we left before they did.

    But other than that, exactly the same!

    • #8
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