Quiet Heroes: Scooping Ice Cream and Saving the World

There are in this world quiet heroes who do their good deeds in places so ubiquitous that we take them for granted.  They stock shelves.  They deliver packages.  They serve ice cream.  At home they feed and clothe their kids, care for aging parents, and pay their monthly bills.  They complain about nothing and they perform even the most banal tasks with dedication and diligence. 

Pedro was one of these people.  He was in his late thirties when I worked with him serving ice cream at Baskin Robbins.  I was sixteen, working my first real job.  Pedro had two ailing parents whom he supported with the money he earned at the ice cream shop.  I remember overhearing phone calls he would make to his parents in which he would speak in Spanish about health care costs, miscellaneous household maintenance that needed taking care of, and groceries he would pick up on the way home from work.  Pedro was a good guy.  He loved Elvis and Frank Sinatra, worked nonstop ten to twelve hours a day, and loved to say, “That’s not funny,” after every joke he told.

Pedro suffered from chronic back pain.  When he thought no one was looking he would sometimes wince, sigh and stare at the floor as if searching for something precious he had lost.  If you missed these subtle signs you would never know the pain he was in when he bent over more than a thousand times a day to scoop rocky road and mint chocolate chip into chocolate covered waffle cones, or when he hauled six hundred pounds of ice cream from the storage freezer to the display freezers in under half an hour–because he never complained. 

Though Pedro was not book smart, he had an answer for every problem or complaint a customer might raise.  Not only did he have an answer; he knew how to calm someone when they were flustered, furious or vulnerable.  I think this sort of skill derives from a kind of intelligence that isn’t highly valued in monetary terms but that keeps our society functioning from the bottom up and prevents us from ripping each other apart. 

Teenagers, college students and seasonal employees passed in and out of Pedro’s life by the dozens each year.  Many of them would start work at the shop one week and then, for a variety of reasons, leave two weeks later.  For them (for me), the ice cream shop was one brief stop on the road toward bigger or at least different things in the future.  For Pedro, it was life. 

In the summer of my sophomore year in college I left Baskin Robbins to fly out to Yosemite National Park and work as a front desk clerk at a lodge there.  While I embarked on what at the time was the grandest of adventures, Pedro remained at the ice cream shop and persisted in the sort of work he had done for most of his life.  I didn’t see him again until several years later, in a grocery store parking lot.    He smiled at me.  His mustache curved up just like it did when I worked with him.  We hugged each other and Pedro asked if I remembered giving him a mix CD once for Christmas.  “I still listen to that every day Nick,” he said.  “Frank Sinatra, Paul Anka, Elvis. . . It’s scratched up, but I still listen to it.”  I had no idea that CD meant so much to him. 

I miss Pedro.  He influenced me more than almost any adult aside from my parents, though I’m not sure he knew that.  He was the kind of man nobody talks about but everyone notices at some point in their life.  Pedro performed a thousand little heroic acts every day and asked for no thanks in return.  People like him keep the gears of civilization turning.  As Voltaire might say, they cultivate their gardens.

About atomsofthought
Photographer. Traveler. Writer. Reader.

14 Responses to Quiet Heroes: Scooping Ice Cream and Saving the World

  1. It is so seldom we come across people like Pedro, and they certainly enrich our lives like no other. Thanks for the post.

  2. chasing now says:

    People like Pedro are the true angels and teachers among us. You always know when you meet a Pedro because being in their presence awakens you, even if only in a small way.

  3. Patti Ross says:

    If we get the chance to experience people like Pedro in our life, we are indeed lucky, They all cultivate our gardens too. Thanks for sharing.

  4. Pingback: DÉJÀ VU ALL OVER AGAIN! (BLOG AWARDS) « Learn More Everyday

  5. pattisj says:

    What a sweet remembrance and shout-out to an unsung hero. These are the people who make America great.

  6. This is lovely. I’m hoping that I haven’t let the Pedros in my life pass me by without acknowledging them. But I’m afraid that I have.

  7. afrankangle says:

    First time visitor via Patti’s recommendation. Wonderful story and great tribute to the common man. I was on a cruise ship last week, and this post made me think of the workers on the ship – especially cabin attendants, servers, and food service workers. They are away from family for many months at a time for the sake of making me smile. But when talking to them, one can see that they are simply trying to make a living to support a family that is elsewhere.

    • Hi! Thank you so much for stopping by! I relate to your experiences with the cruise staff. I got similar impressions when I worked in Yosemitr Nationak Park. I was just there for a summer in college. Most everyone else was there to sustain their families. I learned a lot.

  8. Prashant says:

    Beautifully written…

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