On my way home from a Kiwanis meeting this evening, I decided that I wasn’t going to eat cereal for dinner again. Instead, and kind of as a last-second decision, I pulled into Donato’s and went inside to order an individual pepperoni and breadsticks to go. I never go inside since they have a drive-thru, but this time, for some reason, I did.
As I waited at the counter, a young male employee (turned out to be the manager) was talking to an older couple—the only other people in the restaurant. I could hear him telling them how happy he was to see them again. When he came to the front counter and greeted me, he apologized for taking so long (he hadn’t taken long at all) and proceeded to tell me about the couple.
“I am so happy to see them again. They used to come in here twice a week sometimes and I haven’t seen them in quite a while. I was wondering what had happened to them. Turns out she has Alzheimer’s, but she’s doing great. She’s such a wonderful lady. She has such a great story. You know, she used to be a Pittsburgh Steelers cheerleader!”
I looked him square in the eye and said, “No she wasn’t. The Steelers don’t have cheerleaders. Look at my car (I point outside at my car, covered in a Steelers window wrap). I am from there and the team doesn’t have cheerleaders. Are you sure she said Pittsburgh?”
(above: my back windshield. really.)
I wasn’t mean about it (though it may come across that way in writing). Just straight-forward.
“Ahhh, I see. Yeah, she always says Pittsburgh,” is all he said. He smiled, looked over at her again and then said he was going to go put my order in. Then he was gone.
While I stood there looking at her and out at my car, I wondered: WAS she a Pittsburgh Steelers cheerleader? I mean, was I just a total jerk, acting like I know everything when clearly I might be wrong? So, I googled it. And guess what? Damn right I was wrong. I found a few websites, all about how the Steelers and their fans pride themselves on NOT having cheerleaders. BUT … it also turns out that the team did have cheerleaders at one point; in fact, the team was the first pro football team to have cheerleaders. They were all women from Robert Morris College, according to the article.
By golly, this woman could be one of the only Steelers cheerleaders EVER. And here she is. Right here. And here I am, I thought.
So, I asked another worker in the shop, “Is your manager in the kitchen? I want to tell him something.” I wanted to right my wrong. Admit my fault. Tell him I’m not a jerk … I really DIDN’T think there ever were Pittsburgh Steelers cheerleaders.
“No, he just left. I’m sorry. Can I help you?” I told her I just wanted to tell him something and that it was OK. No big deal. But to me, it WAS A HUGE DEAL. So, I did the only thing I knew I had to do. I went to the table where the couple was eating. Their individual-sized pizzas had just been delivered to the table.
“I am so sorry to bother you during your dinner,” I say, “but I’d like you to look outside.” I pointed out the window to my car, parked right outside from where she was seated. I couldn’t have parked in a more perfect spot—right in her line of sight.
Now, if you’ve seen the movie “Titanic,” the one with Leo and Kate, you might recall the scene where the elderly Rose climbs up on the railing, looks down and drops the Heart of the Ocean necklace into the dark water below. When she does this in the scene, she lets out this little gasp. “Ah!” Well, in this moment, inside this Donato’s, the complete stranger in front of me let out the EXACT SAME SOUND.
And then, she put her hands to her eyes and started to tear up.
She looked at me and said, “Oh, my Pittsburgh Steelers! I’m 85 years old and I was a Pittsburgh Steelers cheerleader!”
“I know you were,” I told her, explaining that the manager told me her story when he saw my car wrap (little white lie).
I told her that I just “had to meet a real Pittsburgh Steelers cheerleader” because “there certainly haven’t been many!” She was smiling from ear to ear and couldn’t believe this was happening. Neither could I.
I asked if she’s from Pittsburgh. Yes. She’s from Fox Chapel. She asked how I got to Indianapolis. I told her I used to work at the newspaper, but now work for Kiwanis International, a global service organization.
“I know Kiwanis. My daddy was a Kiwanian.”
Of course he was. It just kept getting better.
I asked her if I could take a photo of her to remember this moment because she had “just made my entire day.” She hesitated.
“Oh, I’m just an ugly 85-year-old woman,” she said, putting her hands in front of her face.
“No you are not. You are beautiful. And you seriously just made my day. I need to remember this forever.”
She smiled at me and I sat next to her in the booth at Donato’s, quickly snapping a “selfie.”
“I’m Kasey, it’s so nice to meet you,” I said.
“I’m Helen. I am so happy you said hello to me.”
As I pulled away, she waved from inside the restaurant. And I did everything I could not to cry.
It was that perfect.
(me … and Helen)
NOTE: I was unable to find any mention of a Helen on any of the websites that listed names of former Steelers cheerleaders. Since I never asked her any more in-depth questions about when it was or any specifics, I have no way to prove her story. And I don’t care. If she was, in her mind, a Pittsburgh Steelers cheerleader, then she was a Pittsburgh Steelers cheerleader. After all, I am one too. This was still, no matter what, a sweet moment to share with her. I saw how truly happy she was to talk about it, and that’s all that matters. xoxo