An Earth Angel at the Grocery Store

Her young daughter found a true friend on Senior Day while shopping at the supermarket.

Posted in , Jun 17, 2019

Norah as an angel with a large cupcake in hand.

“Mommy, can we get cupcakes for my birthday? Please?”

I cringed at the thought of having to hit the grocery store on a Tuesday, Senior Citizen Discount Day. We’d already celebrated Norah’s big day. Two of her six siblings were also born in September and for the sake of simplicity we had one big celebration for all of them. Still, today was Norah’s actual birthday. Her fourth birthday. How could I say no?

“Okay,” I said, thinking of the seniors who would be swarming the aisles. “But we have to be quick.”

At the supermarket I popped Norah and her little sister in one of those carts shaped like a car and did my best to maneuver it to the bakery quickly. I picked up a package of cupcakes, swung to an other part of the store for birthday balloons and then got distracted by salad dressings in the clearance section.

From the corner of my eye I saw Norah standing up in the cart waving excitedly. “Hi, old person! It’s my birthday today,” she said gleefully.

An elderly man stared at us stone-faced, his brow creased. Before I could explain that “old person” isn’t exactly the best way to address someone, the man had already opened his mouth to reply to her. “Well, hello, little lady,” he said. “How old are you today?”

“I’m four,” Norah said, holding up her fingers. We chatted briefly, long enough for him to tell me that he usually tried to avoid the grocery on Senior Day as well.

We went our separate ways. Thirty seconds later, Norah asked, “Can I take a picture with the old man for my birthday?” I felt kind of weird about asking a complete stranger to take a photo with this kid who had just called him “old.”

“Let’s see if we can,” I said, hoping we couldn’t. We doubled back and spotted him by the dairy section.

“There he is!” Norah pointed. Why him? I wondered. His hair was uncombed. He had a stubbly beard. He was dressed in a plaid shirt, jeans and sneakers. “Ask him, Mommy!” I guessed she’d seen something special. Still, the idea of approaching him again...

“Okay, okay, I’ll ask, honey.”

“Excuse me,” I said. “We spoke a second ago. Norah would like to take a photo with you. For her birthday.” The man steadied himself on his shopping cart. “A photo with me?” he exclaimed. He looked like he’d won the lottery.

“Yes, suh, for my birthday,” Norah said, proud as could be. He wrapped his arm around her. I asked him his name and he said to call him Dan. Norah talked his head off. I’d never known her to take to anyone so quickly. I thanked Mr. Dan for being obliging. “No, thank you,” he said. “This has been the best day I’ve had in a long time. You’ve made me so happy, Miss Norah.” Norah beamed.

Back home I posted the photos on Facebook and got on with the day, which now included cupcakes after dinner. Late that night I received a private message from someone who knew Mr. Dan. She said his wife had passed away months earlier and that he’d been terribly lonely. Norah and I made plans to visit him.

When we got to his house, I noticed his fresh haircut and shave. In his slacks and dress shoes, he looked years younger. He’d set out some paper and crayons for Norah, and she went to work. He told us he’d been a college dean and written three textbooks. He’d flown planes and worked as an auctioneer. Norah had picked out a fascinating gentleman.

We’ve visited Mr. Dan nearly every week since then. For Norah’s fifth birthday in September, we celebrated together—with cupcakes. And I no longer avoid Senior Day at the grocery, though it’s even more crowded with all the angels that are shopping among them.

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