West Texas is a weird and wonderful place, y’all. Have you heard?
I ran into the grocery store for cupcakes for one of the boys to take to school tomorrow. It was a quick, five minute errand I can’t stop thinking about, 10 hectic hours later.
It’s a busy week. I don’t bake cupcakes even on weeks that are not busy. (That’s because I don’t bake.) But a child needed 15 tomorrow, so I ran in and grabbed three clear plastic 6 packs of cupcakes from the grocery store bakery. I stacked them on top of one another, but they felt a little unstable so I held the stack in place with my chin. That’s all that was on my list, so I went to the shortest line and stood behind an older man in a pastel plaid shirt.
He had his back to me, of course, so it got my attention when he started talking to me before he even turned around. He probably heard my creaky, plastic cupcake tower… but still. It was strange. And getting stranger. “You come on up here and go ahead of me. I have this whole basket and you just have those,” he said, nodding at my balanced tower. He looked around behind me, as if looking for someone.
I thanked him, but turned him down. One of my biggest pet peeves is to feel as if I’ve somehow inconvenienced someone. I hate that feeling.
He insisted. And then he moved, so I had little choice.
I thanked him again, and we switched places. Quietly, he asked me, “Do you know my Father?”
He was in his 70s, with skin that looked chalky. I wished I had a little philosophy’s Hope In a Jar with me. It would have taken care of that winter dry skin beautifully. His hair and eyebrows were white, he was tall, and his eyes were a medium brown. I don’t think I’d ever seen him before. Not that it mattered.
“Well, my Father told me to turn around and say hello to the little mother of four kids, but when I did all I saw was… you.”
I didn’t — couldn’t say anything. I was too busy sizing him up. He was doing the same thing, but in a nicer way.
“Sometimes I reckon I hear wrong,” he said, and shrugged. Still watching me, though, waiting.
“The four kids aren’t with me… you heard right.”
He gave me a small smile and a small nod. “He knows every hair on that head ‘o yours, and He keeps track of you all the time. Watches out for you, He does.” He gestured for me to move up a spot in line, as someone ahead of us left. In the same quiet voice he said, “Even tells old men to say hi just so you’ll know you’re on His mind.”
I smiled, but couldn’t really speak. Wouldn’t have known what to say anyway. Maybe I should have been really creeped out, but I wasn’t. He was just too… gentle and peaceful and kind.
“I have three kids. My girl was big-time trouble. And then, when she was 23 everything turned out all right, I guess. She tells me she loves me all the time now. She turned out to be a really great woman. I didn’t think I’d ever get to say that about her. Sure makes me proud. You have a daughter like that?”
The cashier was scanning cupcakes and asking how I was, but I couldn’t exactly pay any attention.
I must have flinched a little at his question.
He just gave me more gentle nods and repeated, “He’s watching over you. It’ll turn out, just you wait.”
I wanted to tell him thank you, but my throat felt completely closed up and I was trying hard not to give in to an embarrassing urge to cry. I hoped he knew I was grateful. He probably did, seeing as how he knew everything else. That brief, bizarre conversation meant the world to me. Lately, I’ve felt very alone. Not that I’ve really admitted that to anyone. Least of all, me.
I guess I didn’t have to.
I’m glad that line wasn’t any longer. I don’t think I could have held the tears at bay against the overwhelming kindness of the man in the pastel plaid shirt.
And to think that my first inclination was to get this guy a little Hope in a Jar…