Every day, do the same thing – work, gym, and McDonalds to get an iced tea. Every day I have to wait behind a bazillion cars, and every day I say I’m never going back but, every day I do.
Today I was eight cars back. Eight! I puffed my cheeks up like a blowfish, and I rolled my eyes. I looked to my left and noticed a 30-something couple pushing a shopping cart toward an old man sitting near the drive-thru. I moved forward in line.
The 70-plus year-old man had shaggy, gray hair. Even though it was 85 degrees outside, he wore a dirty beanie and sweats. The yuppie couple was elegantly dressed. The guy was clean shaven, and wore black sunglasses, a long-sleeved black shirt, dress pants, dress shoes and a shiny, gray tie.
I moved forward.
The yuppie lady had chestnut hair with loose curls, a sleeveless black dress, and strappy silver sandals.
I pulled forward.
The lady said to the old man, “Do you remember us? You came up and asked us for money.”
The old man looked at her and said, “Maybe.”
She bit her bottom lip and looked disappointed.
The guy in the tie smiled at her with very white teeth and crouched beside the old man. He placed his hand on his shoulder and said, “We remember you.”
I liked that guy.
The lady said, “We’ve been looking for you for three hours.”
The old man said, “Why?”
“Welcome to McDonalds.”
“I’ll have a large iced tea.”
When I pulled back around, the old man was looking at the food, sleeping bag and folding chair they had brought him.
It was one of the nicest things I’ve ever seen. As I drank my tea, the lady turned her head and looked right at me. I choked a little, embarrassed, but I smiled and she smiled back.
I pulled a thank you note out of the box I keep in my car and wrote, “Whoever is generous to the poor lends to the Lord, and he will repay him for his deed. Your generosity touched me and I just wanted to say thank you.”
I walked over and said to the lady, “Could I speak with you for a minute?” I held out the card and said, “This is just a card. I saw what you did for the old man, and I wanted to say thank you for being so nice.”
She looked at it for a long time, then cupped both of her hands over mine and just stood there.
I just stood there, too. I didn’t know what to say.
Finally, she started sobbing. It was the kind that racks your body, steals your breath and rips the joy from your heart. My mouth dropped open in shock.
Then I did something weird. I hugged a complete stranger. I hugged her and said, “I’m sorry” over and over and cried.
The guy in the gray tie said, “We ran into the old guy earlier but didn’t have any cash. So we brought this stuff back for him.”
I said, “Oh.” and just stood there, hugging this stranger, patting her back, and saying, “Everything’s OK.”
She pulled away finally and wiped her tears. She smiled an apologetic smile and said, “My name is Candace.”
The guy stepped up, shook my hand, and said, “Troy.”
I said, “Nice to meet you.”
“My dad died from a heart attack a few days ago,” Candace said. “It happened so suddenly. Today was the funeral.”
I felt like the breath had been knocked out of me.
“I hadn’t spoken to him in over three years,” Candace said. “That’s why I had to bring all this stuff to this man.”
She started crying again.
I said, “Candace, are you a mom?” She nodded.
“I bet you love your kids more than anything in this world.” She nodded again.
I grabbed her hand and said, “Is there any reason on Earth that you would ever stop loving them?”
She frowned and said, “No.”
“That’s how your dad felt about you,” I said. “Parents and kids have a bond that nothing can break. He loved you and he knew you loved him.”
A look of peace washed over her face. I knew she understood.
As I pulled out of the parking lot, I looked over at the old man. He was eating Cheez-Its out of the box.
I smiled. I called my daughter, and then I called my son.
Linell Hoffmann of Chowchilla is an account executive at Cumulus Media in Fresno. She can be reached on Facebook or by email at email@example.com.