Monday, October 19, 2009

Thanksgiving Day 18: The Benavides Brothers

One of the better decisions I have made for the TH was through listening to Tina. Tina, a dear friend of my Mum's, called me one day and said that her grandson needed a job. I asked her if he was a good worker. "He's a good boy," she retorted. "He'll be a good worker if you give him a chance."

And from the first shift Brent has proved his grandmother right. He always arrives early ("being on time's important," he advises the younger workers) and dresses appropriately for the occasion. I knew he was going to be a perfect fit when we were catering a private dinner at the TH and Brent showed up all in black and with a tie on!

Brent is a hard worker, it's true; but on top of that he's consistent, even keeled, compassionate, intelligent and wickedly funny. It will take Lois a long time to live down her foolhardy tossing away of the few crumbs of dressing left after our turkey dinner: Brent has taken it upon himself to "instruct her in the art of leftovers" ... Former and current teachers of Brent tell me how fortunate I am to have him at the TH. His hockey coach fought to overcome the age issue and get him eligible to play this year, because Brent exerts such an influence for good on the whole team. He was elected President of the student council (his brother told us that's only because the girls all fall for his deep voice and for no other reason!). He was involved in choir last year. He is disciplined and he takes leadership courses and volunteers in the community.

Maybe the most telling thing about Brent is this: his own younger brother and cousin both look up to him with the utmost respect. He never raises his voice with them, but they are guided and instructed and supported by him; and he always makes them feel like they are accomplishing important things, no matter how small the task. Yet he manages to make work fun and varies his educational style. One memorable occasion comes to mind when he was teaching them how to package desserts to go. He said, "Listen up!" and they both literally snapped to attention. Immediately running with the moment as one of them prepared to dart off to get a take-out container, Brent said in a mock-military style, "Did I tell you to move?" And as one started to ask him a question, he said, "I'll tell you when you can talk!" All of us in the kitchen were convulsed with laughter by the time this exercise was completed -- but both the junior officers knew how to prepare food to go by the time the drill was over!

Brent is 17 for one and a half more months "If I'm 17, I must be perfect," he will remind me, knowing my predilection for the number. "I've got to capitalize on it now before I turn 18 and am over the hill!"

Brent knew he was truly part of the TH family when, not so long ago, he referred to one of the guests he was serving as "Peanut Butter Pie Person". A lot of times we have nicknames for our guests derived from what they seem to like to order -- "Rice Pudding Lady", for example -- and a moment after Brent made his comment he asked, his face wreathed in smiles, "I really do belong, don't I?!"
The other half of the Benavides brothers is Curtis.

After Brent had been at the TH for a few months, I was determined to have Curtis work here as soon as he was old enough. And finally that day came, again courtesy of Tina. Dad and I were visiting Tina in Foothills hospital between Christmas and New Year and Curtis arrived with his mother shortly after we did.

The initial shock of seeing his grandmother looking so wan and frail took its toll on Curtis, naturally; but a few minutes later, with the buoyancy of youth, he said to me, "Karyn, I turned 14 and I got my learner's permit -- do you want to see?" He started the next weekend.

Curtis is as amazing as Brent; but he is no mere shadow of his talented elder brother, although they share the same extremely clever sense of humour and quick-wittedness. Curtis possesses one of the biggest, most tender hearts I have ever encountered in a human being. The elder guests love him because he is a hugger -- and everyone could do with more hugs, especially the elderly! He goes out of his way to look for opportunities to help people. For example, Erna, pictured with Curt, was having trouble getting out of the car one Sunday evening not so long ago. Curt happened to be arriving for work at just that moment. I chanced to glance out of the window to see him hoisting her out of the low-slung car she had ridden in, followed by a reassuring little pat on her shoulder. Erna was delighted to have her picture taken with "that kind boy!"

Curtis learns very fast, and within a week or so he was bussing tables, taking out water, keeping up with the dishes and charming everyone in both the kitchen and the dining room with his witty repartee and his unique take on life. He has grown about a foot taller since he started working at Nilgiris. More importantly, he has developed his natural ability for connecting with people; he has become more disciplined in his work habits; he is learning to take initiative; and he has quickly become an indispensable member of the team. He's so smart -- one of those kids who you are very confident will be able to do anything he sets his heart and mind to do.

Family is important to Curtis -- on Mother's Day he brought his mom in for dessert and coffee; prior to the event he had obtained Jackie's cheesecake recipe, which we made in her honour and which she enjoyed that evening. On Father's Day he met his dad for dessert and a man to man chat.

But "family" for Curtis extends past his own Belt / Benavides clan: he has adopted all of us who work at the TH as part of his family and he cares for each of us passionately. If Lois seems tired he will try to take the load off her any way that he can, or speak some encouraging words accompanied by a brotherly hug. When I was in the throes of my foot woes he was the one who reminded me to take my Advil and do my exercises and was I icing my foot?

This young man is no namby-pamby bleeding heart, however; he can give as good -- or better -- than he gets. "Hammer" is a word he'll throw out when he feels the occasion warrants it. Calling Lois out on "violations" and then patting her back to let her know that it's all in jest is one of the ongoing sources of amusement in the kitchen. Most of the time, however, his take on a situation is fresh and often unintentionally humourous. For example, when he was talking earnestly with me as to what I was doing to mitigate the pain in my foot and to prevent it from recurring in the future, I told him that I just needed to lose some weight. His ready sympathies roused immediately, he blurted out, "Karyn, you're not fat; you're just very, very short!" The look of horror and consternation on his face after he realized what he had just said was even funnier than the words themselves ...

As teenage girls seem to arrive at the TH in droves on the days that Brent and Curtis work, both of these boys do have one strict policy to follow: when either of them gets serious about a girl, they know that they have to bring her to the TH; and Lois and Brenda and BethAnne and I are going to vet her to make SURE that she deserves the attention of one of the two best catches in Three Hills!

It'll be a long time before I am privileged to see the like of Team Benavides again. Their work ethic is incredibly strong; their attitude is exemplary; their kindness to and acceptance of people from every walk of life is praiseworthy. Their loyalty is unwavering. And it can be traced to two people who should win Parents of the Year awards, Oswaldo and Jackie. The unconditional love they give their children is the foundation upon which these kids can build the edifices of their lives.

For myself, I have learnt from these two exceptional young men that there are many different ways of examining a situation; that with every problem there are solutions waiting to be uncovered; and that there is joy to be experienced and always love enough to share. I am greatly enriched -- and enchanted -- by the opportunity to see life from their perspective. They are more than just good workers; they're good boys.

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