His smile. I remember that too. He always had the biggest smile and friendliest laugh of anyone I’ve ever met. Always a joke. Always an encouragement. Always brightening your day.
Mr. Brown was an elderly black gentleman who I met when I was 17 and working at the restaurant. I never knew his first name, he always introduced himself with a smile and said, “I’m Mr. Brown, what’s your name?” He’d come in and say, “Hello,” to everyone in the dining room and every staff member. He had a way of talking to you that made you feel like you really mattered. He’d remember your name (and everyone else’s) and ask you how your dad was doing, how you did on your final, or some other tidbit about your life that he had tucked away during your last conversation. He was a presence when he came into a room. You couldn’t miss him. He was the most amiable man I have ever known.
I only saw him angry once. One of the counter girls had been treated poorly by her boyfriend shortly before and she had been crying. Mr. Brown put his arm on her and told her that she was beautiful and that she was too valuable to waste her time with someone who couldn’t appreciate that. I believe that her soon-to-be-ex-boyfriend would have been really sorry if he been there, at that moment. Mr. Brown soon had her sniffing away the tears and laughing along with him.
Mr. Brown was generous with his time. He helped me do my taxes for the first time. I think he did the same thing for almost every young kid there. He helped my friend work on his car and helped me fix my bike once. He always seemed to be helping someone with something.
We walked together from the restaurant to my house to do my taxes. It was normally a 20 minute walk, but it was five times that with Mr. Brown. Along the way, he stopped at almost every shop and business to say, “Hello,” to people he knew there. He took time with every single one of them to flash his smile and to listen to their story. And, he introduced me to every single one of them as if I was his closest friend in the world.
Mr. Brown impressed me so much, that I vowed that someday, I’d be like him. I want to live in a community of people and be known by everyone. I want to be able to encourage people and help them out. I want to lift up those whose spirits are down, and be the kind of guy who can make a young girl smile through her tears and be just a bit scary to her loser boyfriend who hurt her. I want to help some dumb kid with his taxes and maybe pass along a few life lessons along the way.
That’s who I’d like to be. Just like Mr. Brown.
For years, I’d see Mr. Brown and his Navy hat walking around the streets of this neighborhood. I moved to a different part of the city for a few years, and I haven’t seen him since I’ve moved back. He’s probably passed on by now. It may not be theologically accurate, but I like to picture Mr. Brown strolling the streets of heaven, wearing his Navy hat, stopping and talking to every single person there, remembering their name, and listening to their story.
He may be gone, but Mr. Brown lives on in my memory, and in my desire to be just like him.