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The Hearts of the Fathers…

My children all live in different states. My eldest who today is 38, lives in Fairfax Virginia, my daughter, in the Queen City, Cincinnati, and my youngest son, on the west coast in Oregon. Suffice it to say that, I miss my children on holidays and well, every day along with my grandchildren.

For those of you who are separated by distance from your loved ones, the ties that bind grow stronger over the holidays. Living in the Volunteer State, I admit to not seeing my children often and due to work, both mine and theirs, visits have to be planned in advance. Those of you in the same situation as I, will understand when I say that seeing other families together fans the flames of familial love and makes the absence of my family even harder to bear at times.

Such was yesterday. I had gone to our neighborhood grocery to pick up some things and had just retrieved a cart (a buggy for those from the South…”No Ninos en la canasta!” for my Hispanic friends) and was walking into the produce aisle when I saw her.

The little girl with her mother was almost an exact copy of my granddaughter Genevieve. She had a tiny shopping cart that the grocery provides for children to walk alongside their parents to “play” shop. Being the softie that I am, I stood back and watched as she would place an apple in her cart when her mother would stop to look at apples, and would clap when the auto sprinklers came on in the produce department to water the veggies. My heart grew heavy with missing my little grand daughter and as they passed near by me, I looked at the little girl and into her cart.

“My goodness, you are being such a big helper to your mommy” I said looking her mother in the eye to make sure she knew I was a grandfather trying to be kind. She smiled broadly. “Oh yes” she said,  “She is my big helper!” I got down on her level and asked her, “do you think you have enough room in your cart for cookies…I’m sure your mommy needs your help with that…” I looked winking at her mommy who nodded. I produced two dollars and handed them to the little girl, who looked at her mother who said, “it’s okay sweetie, you can take it.”

These days with television news reporting atrocities of people kidnapping children and the reality that we live in a perverted and dangerous world, it was a refreshing thing that this mother understood I was simply trying to be kind. As I looked behind the mother, there; standing by her side was an older woman, who I presumed to be either her mother or mother-in-law. The older woman made eye contact with me, looking me over carefully. When my eyes met hers, a smile broke out on her face. She noticed my “Northern” accent, (which is no accent at all) and said, “You must be missing your grandchildren.”

Admittedly, I confessed to her, “it’s been too long…I have 5 that live on the coasts but I have 3 locally that get hugged a lot!” She asked about my grandchildren and I told her the names and ages of each one…a ritual that grandparents understand. Our encounter lasted no more than two minutes at the most, and probably less, then we all moved on to do our shopping. I waved goodbye to the little girl and walked on.

I gathered all the things I had been sent to purchase and got in line at the checkout. It was crowded for a Saturday evening, but I needed to get home for the big Titans game.

After paying and beginning to walk away, I heard the staccato sounds of little feet running toward me and the mother saying, “Sir?” I turned around to seeing the little girl running toward me…grandmother in tow. I knelt down and she gave me a hug and held out for me a chocolate chip cookie. I got a little misty I have to admit and that’s when the daughter spoke up.

“Sir, I wanted to thank you for your kindness…I am often so cautious about strangers” she paused looking at me to make sure I wasn’t offended. I nodded in agreement and said, “We live in a different world than when I grew up.” I said. Her mother, close to my age nodded. The daughter said, “I am always watching when my children are in public for fear of the stories that I have heard on the news…but…” she paused looking down at her daughter. “I wanted to thank you for renewing my trust in strangers…my little one here told me when you walked away, ‘He is somebody’s grandpa and his grandchildren are looking for him… do you think he is lost?”

The young mother smiled at me and said, “Gretchen, my daughter; just wanted you to know she doesn’t want you to be sad.” Well, of course I became a tearful mess. The mother said, “Wherever your children and grandchildren are…they should know you are a good grandpa…and have restored the faith of this cautious millennial in others.” At that the young mother, the older mother and little Gretchen gave me a hug. I melted. I thanked them for the kindness of saying something and heard little Gretchen say, as I walked out the door say to her mommy, “Maybe we should go looking for his grandchildren!”

I got into my car and just sat for a minute. I thought about my son turning 38 years old today…I thought about my daughter in Cincinnati and my son and his family on the West Coast… and said out loud, “How I miss you!” I started the car and said a prayer, “Lord, watch over my family tonight…”. I heard the Lord say, as I drove out of the parking lot and toward home, “Little Gretchen was your reminder that I always have you on my mind…and that I am watching over them.”

To grandparents everywhere…hold them all tightly…and kiss those precious little heads every chance you get. And, for young families everywhere, be mindful that kindnesses from older people toward their children may simply be the heart of the Father, reaching out to the children they miss. Thanks for the cookie…and especially the hug little Gretchen, and hugs to my five grandchildren who are not near me tonight…

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