Dear Stop & Shop,
Today I am supposed to write a letter to my best friend. Clearly, you are not my best friend. However, in all seriousness, I experienced something in your produce department today that I just can’t shake.
This is a thank you note.
It was still dark this morning when the phone rang me awake and a pre-recorded message told me the weather was so foul that HC’s bus would be two hours late. There was an ice storm out there, but it was warm where I was, so I promptly went back to sleep. About two hours later I woke up, put on a robe, fed the baby, and then took her back to bed with me where we cuddled under my covers while P made my tea. HC, delighted by her extra hours of sleep, joined me on the bed and we tickled F until P came in and summoned the teenager off to her coalmine for the day.
After several days of undiagnosed fussiness, Baby F has recovered to her normal happy and alert self. This baby is so smiley and laughy that it’s hard to get anything done around here – all I want to do when she’s in these moods is hold her and giggle, too.
The two of us eventually bundled up and went off through the ice storm for a grocery shop. I had only been tooling around your store for a few minutes when F made it clear that it was lunchtime for babies. I made my way to the nearest bench and settled us down, nice and discreet, to nurse for a little while.
Most people didn’t notice us. I doubt we were particularly noticeable – F was mostly covered by a baby blanket, only her little socked feet poking out, kicking away as always, and me getting a glazed look as I stared off into the pyramid of pomegranates ahead of me. One man caught my eye and chuckled, “Duty calls!”
I chuckled back, then drifted away again, pondering the produce.
Slowly, an aged-looking man approached me, shuffling. He was mostly bald with a small track of grey hair fringing the back of his head from one ear to the other. He was very short, maybe a few inches over five feet, and I assume he is a janitor. He pushed a grocery cart with a broom and dustpan inside. He has a pleasant face but his mouth was bobbing open and closed very quickly, as if he were struggling to say something to me. I smiled at him, assuming he had some sort of physical problem that inhibited proper speech, but soon I realized that I could make out a few words.
“She is so beautiful,” he said.
“Thanks,” I beamed.
“She is so beautiful,” he repeated, his eyes not leaving her little pink and grey striped socks. “How old?”
“Three months,” I said, pleased. He stood there for a few seconds, his mouth bobbing open and closed several times, but no sound came out.
He finally spoke, but in a voice so quiet I had to lean forward and read his lips. “I was married once.”
“Oh?” I said, confused.
“I was married once for nineteen years. But no children.”
I was silent, and sat there smiling stupidly on the bench, not knowing what to say. He looked at F with visible yearning. I realized that his mouth was bobbing open and closed, not because of any physical problem, but as an emotional hiccough caused by what he was trying to tell me.
“She got pregnant four times,” he said, “but lost them.” He gestured calmly with his hands, down and away, down and away. I could hardly hear what he was saying, but his eyes softened. “She was too small to hold them.”
He paused briefly, “I always wanted a baby. Now I’m 60 and it’s too late.”
I could feel F stretching her little arms and snuffling as she nursed. Her warm breath was captured under the blanket that covered my shoulder most of her body. I wanted to say something comforting to the man, and it occurred to me that I should mention P’s age and tell him it’s not too late, that P has this baby when he, too, feared it was too late. But I couldn’t. For several seconds he stood in front of us, motionless.
Then his voice cracked as he said,“You take care of that baby, now.” He turned back to his cart and removed the broom, then continued on, presumably to sweep up some spilled flour somewhere, or a broken jar of peanuts.
All day I’ve had the vision of that sad man in my head.
Why am I so blessed? How did this little baby become a part of my life? It makes me want do something really important and wonderful to make myself worthy of this gift. What can I do?
I don’t know yet, except to thank God for the many blessings in my life, and be the best steward I can be for them.
Thank you, Stop & Shop, for providing me with a reminder of how precious my little baby is. Every time I drive past your store, I’ll remember how lucky we are to have her.
PS: Also, thank you for the “customers with infants” parking spaces. They’re a big help.