Hers is a demeanor that reveals a relevant advantage. In her 44 years of life, she has discerned the vital difference between servitude and service.
Anyone who eats lunch at El Charro, where she is head waitress, is fortunate to be served by her, as any of her “regulars” can attest. She anticipates a customer’s needs and wishes almost to the point of clairvoyance.
“I love being a waitress,” she says, smiling.
BUT THE infectious smile is a shield, for Petra’s is a family in crisis, the victim of such bad luck that she would be a shoe-in for “Queen For A Day”—for those old enough to remember the famous radio network program in the mid-1940s.
Petra—named after her grandmother, not the famous archaeological site in Jordan—was born and raised in Beeville, in a family of four brothers and seven sisters. She was graduated from A.C. Jones High School, class of 1987. Two years later, she earned an associate’s degree in child development from what then was Bee County College.
It is that drive for scholarship, not necessarily the education she received, that has helped her cope with a series of cascading events.
LAST SEPTEMBER, she was at work while her husband of seven years, Manual Del Bosque—a “rodbuster”—was working for JV Construction in Normanna in the oil fields near Falls City with two others when the three were in the proverbial wrong place and wrong time.
“Something exploded,” Petra says. “It killed one of the men and blinded another.”
One of Manual’s co-workers called Petra.
“He got burned a little bit,” he said.
“His foreman was driving him to a hospital in Kenedy when their vehicle was sideswiped. They landed in the ditch.”
Eventually, Manual was flown to Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio, where doctors found he had third-degree burns on one side of his body and had suffered herniated disks in his spine. His lungs also were damaged.
“He thought he was going to die,” Petra remembers. “When I saw him in the intensive care unit, he was scared.”
His mother had died two weeks before the accident.
Seven months after the explosion, he is unable to work and facing surgery to have steel rods inserted in his back.
SUDDENLY, PETRA was the breadwinner.
Her family of five children now is trying to survive on an income cut in half. Her family is learning the definition of austerity.
“I go around the house turning off the lights, making sure the faucets are completely off,” she says. “My kids do lawn work to bring in money.
“And,” she adds, wiping away tears, “my kids now eat leftovers.”
On a kitchen shelf, Petra placed two large jars. “They’re where I store all my loose change. One is for school supplies, the other is for Christmas.
“My kids are learning to do without. We might have to cancel their cellphones.”
It gets worse.
ONE OF her sons, 14-year-old Jonathan, suffers from severe epilepsy.
“He will suddenly have a seizure and collapse,” Petra explains. “When he does, he is unconscious for two hours. When he wakes up, he has no memory of what happened.”
Jonathan is an honor student, and new medicine has helped. He hasn’t suffered a seizure in four months. “He used to have them once a week,” Petra says.
It gets worse.
SHE GETS up every day at 4 a.m. in order to open the restaurant an hour later. But, she can’t respond to any family emergency that might occur during her 5 a.m.-1 p.m. shift.
“I have to work for my tips.”
Her salary and tips are not enough. Since her husband’s injury, she has been withdrawing money from her IBC Bank savings account.
“I don’t know what I am going to do. I’ve run out. I’m using the rest of it this month to pay bills. There isn’t any more.”
IN FEBRUARY a hapless driver T-boned her automobile. It’s been at a mechanic’s shop for two months. It’s not unusual for her to walk to and from work.
“Oh Lord,” she said after the accident, “it can’t get any worse.”
BUT NONE of the customers who often wait at 5 a.m. for her to open El Charro’s door are aware of her anxieties. They are there to be served, and she is a professional. More than one “regular” will find that when she comes to their table to take their order she has arrived with their drinks.
Need a refill? It’s there. More lemon for that tea? It’s there.
More than one customer has commented on her reliability and her cheerfulness as they stand at the register, pause for a moment to look at their receipt, mentally calculating.
“Let’s see, should I leave 15 percent or 20?”
A seemingly trivial bit of math—unless you are trying to support your family one tip at a time.
Bill Clough is a reporter at the Bee-Picayune and can be reached at 358-2550, ext. 122, or at beepic@mySouTex.com.