Happy Hour

Photo by FluxFactory/iStock / Getty Images

An unseasonably warm February afternoon. An unexpected day off. Soaking up the last of the winter sun on an outdoor patio over $4 beer? Sold.

And so began a last-minute happy hour. Why bother with laundry or the gym when there is fun to be had?

Now, it should be known that we had every reason in the world not to splurge on this type of indulgence. While we are both gainfully employed, we had implemented a strict spending policy post-Christmas. The goal: to pay off our credit cards, buy a house and possibly squeeze in a family vacation.

Each week, my husband and I allowed ourselves a $40 allowance to spend as we wish. Lunch with friends, beer with the guys – anything above and beyond had to come out of our personal kitty. Books, movies, even clothing – anything that wasn’t groceries or household essentials had to be purchased out of our “own” pockets.

Returning to the scene of the happy hour. We both wanted burgers. We both wanted beer. Our son also ordered a burger. When the bill came, my husband and I contributed equal amounts from our personal stash. I joked about going “Dutch” after seven years of marriage (and joint bank accounts).

Our growing son, four going on 14, scarfed down his kiddie meal and wanted another. Knowing there was no way he could finish another, we said no, and said if he was hungry later we’ll fix him something at home.

Leaving the restaurant, the server approached us and handed us back our cash. She said someone inside wanted to pay for our meal. Perplexed, we asked who. She said they wanted to keep it anonymous. We tried to hide our confusion. Did someone overhear our conversation and mistakenly think we were destitute? Or was it someone we knew? Or was it a simply a case of paying it forward?

Smile, I told my husband. Look gracious. I’m confused, he said. I feel awkward. Well then kiss me. Look sweet. Look humble.

Which we are, of course. More than words can say.

We told our son what happened. I said isn’t that kind? Maybe we should do something similar to a family who needs it. His solution, of course, was to take our generous donors out to dinner, not understanding why we didn’t know who they were.

But we were still left wondering: was this a lesson? Maybe we need to be more grateful for what we have. Maybe we need to be more generous.

In the end, it was a setting sun, a cold beer on an outdoor patio and the generosity of an unknown stranger that left us contemplating our own position in this world.