‘Merry Christmas. Pay It Forward,’ The Lunch Bill Said


Every year I rack my brains to figure out a memorable birthday for my girls. These days as a single mom, the task comes with a special twist of empty-checking-account anxiety. I want them to have everything — but I can afford hardly anything.

This year, for my youngest daughter’s 12th birthday, I cooked up the idea of taking her and a couple of her friends to Jerome, giving them some pocket money and treating them to lunch. I hoped for fun day and a few gifts.

Crystal and I had discovered Jerome on a trip with my parents. We loved it so much we could not wait to get back. Her birthday offered the perfect excuse.

“Now I can get that hat I wanted, “ she said as we laid our plans.

“I want to see the kaleidoscope shop that we missed last time, “ I said.

“I went there with my parents and we had a great day,” said Victoria Van Camp, one of Crystal’s friends.

“I’ve never been,” said Veronica Volk her other friend.

On our first trip, my parents had taken us to the Haunted Hamburger. My parents treated, but I peeked at the daunting bill. Now on my own, I figured if I went easy on the gifts we could splurge on lunch.

Famous last words.

At the shop called Raspberry, while the girls purchased incense, I explored the gemstone jewelry. At a table with stones attached to a silver disc explaining the meaning of the stone, I picked up a blue stone. The message said, “Spirit. Sodalite brings in net peace. Its peaceful properties will flow all around you. Sodalite is extra lucky for writers.”

I felt a chill go up my spine. I needed good luck — especially with my writing. I bought the necklace and immediately put it on — I’d take help from anywhere I could get it.

Present number one: for me.

Then at the Christy Fisher Studio clothing store where Crystal found her hat, I discovered a wrap and T-shirt for my older daughter. Beautifully colored they made the perfect gift. Crystal found a T-shirt she just had to have. I caved and bought all three.

Present number two and three, for my daughters.

Then we wandered into Mr. B’s Toy Shop. Mr. B, a quirky man who loves playing jokes on customers sat behind his counter shooting smoke rings at visitors.

“I used to have this shop in Sedona, but I prefer Jerome,” said Mr. B.

He’s worked many different ventures but this is his favorite. He even has his 6-and-a-half-year-old daughter involved in the business.

“She is quality control and research,” said Mr. B.

My luck held out, I found a funny gift for the office Christmas staff party, complements of Mr. B’s suggestion.

Gift number four: office party checked off the list.

But as lunch approached, I started to add up the totals of everything in my head. My stomach knotted and I nearly revoked my promise of a Haunted Hamburger lunch — but not quite.

Our table offered a spectacular view of the Verde Valley spreading below us.

Feeling expansive, I told the girls to go ahead and order what they wanted.

Crystal got a whole burger to herself. Veronica and Victoria split a burger. I got a half sandwich and salad — I knew Crystal would need help with her huge pile of food.

We thoroughly enjoyed the food with smiles and groans of pleasure.

But as the meal wound down, a tiny bit of panic set in.

Dreading the total, I asked for the check.

“It’s been handled,” said our waitress.

“Pardon me?” I asked.

She handed me the bill for lunch confirming it had been paid. On the bottom of the tally of numbers a scribbled note read:

“Merry Christmas. Pay it forward.”

Crystal, Veronica and Victoria sat with me in stunned silence, mouths gaping.

Suddenly my daughter blurted out, “This is most certainly the best birthday I’ve ever had!”

We left in a happy chatter, my day transformed by the kindness of a stranger.

How could I thank her? How could I tell her how she’d touched our day — our holiday?

As I loaded the girls into the car, I felt the weight of my sodalite necklace around my neck. Then I realized one way I could pay it forward: Write about it.


Use the comment form below to begin a discussion about this content.

Requires free registration

Posting comments requires a free account and verification.