'Skyscraper Soda' squabble at Winstead's kicks in holiday spirit
The Kansas City Star
Not even a family trip to “A Christmas Carol” or my son’s school visit to “The Nutcracker” had put our clan in a holiday mood. Both were fine performances but the state of mind still hadn’t arrived. The house lights were up, and the pictures for cards taken. But nothing had clicked for us, that is until a recent visit to Kansas City’s beloved Winstead’s.
We had decided to stop for a quick lunch before our annual trek to buy a Christmas tree from the same Wisconsin tree grower who makes an annual pilgrimage to Kansas City. That’s a story for another time. Before we left our house, my 10-year-old son exuberantly proclaimed “Let’s go to Winstead’s. I want us to get the Skyscraper Soda.” As every good Kansas Citian knows the Skyscraper Soda is a decadent delight which serves four – heavy on the calories and pocketbook. “No,” I stated as the nutritional gatekeeper thinking “If he gets that, he won’t eat his lunch.” What a kill joy I had become.
When it was my son’s turn to order from the cheerful waitress all that came out of his mouth was “I just want water.” My husband and I both looked at his teary eyes, confused by his decision. We knew he was hungry. At that moment we couldn’t decide if he was hurt or defiant. I explained to the waitress our Skyscraper dilemma, ordered him lunch and a small soda for one.
During our wait I learned that what our son really wanted was not so much the treat itself but the experience of sharing the soda with his parents – getting his own soda wasn’t quite the same. How could I have overlooked the obvious? I had done this very same thing with my parents on the Plaza when I was a child. We tried to explain our position but he was slow to recover - the tears kept falling silently, there was no stopping this liquid breakdown. Periodically, the waitress popped by dropping off elements of our lunch and she couldn’t help but notice our bewildered boy. She gave me the occasional wink like she’d been there before.
Before we knew it she was delivering our son’s soda – but not the small one we ordered. She planted the “Skyscraper Soda” topped with cherries and whipped cream right in the center of our table. “I don’t want anyone sitting in my section to be unhappy,” she chirped. My son lit up like our yet to be purchased tree! We thanked her and started talking and soon learned her story – she’d raised three children, I assumed on a waitress’ salary and gleefully shared how she had just purchased a $70 Dora the Explorer dollhouse for her granddaughter. After that big buy, she wasn’t sure how she was going to afford mailing it all the way to Michigan but she was going to “figure out a way.”
When she left the table I felt so moved that a stranger had gone out of her way to smooth the ruffled feelings of my son and yet sad that this special grandmother was not going to be able to spend Christmas with her granddaughter. I imagined she’d served a lot of Skyscraper Sodas to scrape together the cost of that dollhouse and I felt instantly grateful for all I had. I whispered to my husband “You’ve got to leave her a good tip.” He gave me a ten dollar bill for a $25 check and knowingly said “You give it to her.”
When I walked up to the counter I added a little more to my husband’s tip and as I handed her the money I wanted to say “Here, use this to help ship your dollhouse,” but I was too broken up to get out the words. “Merry Christmas” was all I could muster. Her gift of kindness, that didn’t include a charger, instructions or a receipt, turned our day around completely. And boy was that Skyscraper Soda good.
Heather McMichael lives in Kansas City, Missouri and works in public relations.