Posted by: carolyn / through a widow's eyes | May 16, 2015

dispatch from The Before

Friday afternoon, I’m in my local.
It’s gray and breezy; all the doors are open. It is windy INSIDE the pub. A lackluster happy hour; I’m “one and done”, getting ready to head out. I button my jacket. A random guy says to me “You look as cold as I feel.”
me: “I’m not cold; I’m bored. I’m out of here.”
him: “You are so familiar to me. Your voice. How do I know you—?”

and proceeds to chat me up as to where and how, in my small city over the last thirty-five years, we might know each other. He doesn’t look familiar to me, but is not aggressive or annoying, so I talk to him while waiting for N. to pay her bill. Eventually he says “—maybe from a business? What do you do?”

and it turns out he used to frequent my bakery that I owned In The Before, My Old Life that I had with my husband and my little girl. (The little girl towers over me now and is working on her second college degree.) Those days we lived so deeply and now they are just. so. gone. So over. When Jeff got sick, I closed the business. There was no way to care for him and run the bakery, too, even if I had wanted to. And afterwards, well, I just didn’t have it in me to continue on alone. I hardly even bake at home any more.

“You were always behind the counter in front, with an apron on, and a ponytail. You ran the place. That’s why I remember your voice. You always waited on us. Your husband was in the back. Really tall guy. Big mustache and ponytail. He wore an apron, too. Your little girl would be there, too, playing.”

“Your chocolate raspberry cake!” he went on. ”Chocolate cake with raspberry filling and chocolate buttercream! Oh! I can picture it now!” he extolled, rubbing his hands together.

“My father was dying for two years. We went to see him every Saturday and we always stopped into your place first and bought him a small chocolate raspberry torte! Every week. It was his favorite thing! He couldn’t eat much, at the end, but your cake was so moist and good, he could always eat that, even when he couldn’t eat anything else. It was one of the last things he asked for, one of the last things he ate. I want you to know that you made a difference. You made him very happy. And that made us very happy. You were part of our family tradition.”

Chills. No tears, for once, thankfully. But to have a stranger paint such a vivid picture of my old life in just a few words! To remember Jeff, out loud, without even knowing him, or knowing what that memory would mean to me! To acknowledge what we built, to say it meant something! Oh, what a gift he gave me! He made my day, my week. This gentleman told me his name, maybe even twice, but I was in such a reverie about the old days colliding into the new there in the windy bar, of course it whooshed from my head instantly. Maybe I’ll see him in the pub again someday. But until then, thank you, random stranger.

You never know what your words will mean to someone. If you’re wondering about whether to say something, whether to bother making that connection, my advice will always be YES. Your words have power beyond your imagining.

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