Just after 6 this evening, I walked myself down to what was once a Circle K near my parents' house for an out-of-stock recipe item.
As it sits just three houses and a vacant lot from us, the corner store was the source of many a thirst quencher and good wholesome fun growing up. My brothers would stop in for some breakfast tacos on Saturday mornings, or ice cold sodas after a long bike ride around the neighborhood. Dad would walk to it when he needed a break from his work outside. Sometimes I would hike myself down there if I needed something last-minute. We got to know the store really well--but more importantly, it got to know us.
This trip, I scanned the aging chest-high shelves for diced tomatoes, but found only a six-ounce can of tomato paste. No other aisle in the tiny store carried food cans, I knew. But paste wouldn't be good for Italian Sausage Soup. Drat.
Across the open foyer, an older black man called out, "Hey, how's your mom?" His skin was shiny and deeply lined, like an ebony walking stick that had been rubbed smooth from so much touch. He wore a black cap and walked with a shuffling limp, a malady so mild it was hardly noticeable. When he smiled, a gold cap hugged one of his top incisors.
At first I brushed his question off with an oh-she's-fine, but as I milled about the store he kept talking. "I'd see her in here nearly every day, but it's been a month since I seen her," he said. "I come in on the weekends and I'd see her Friday, Saturday come in by herself and walk around the store a little bit." He then went on to tell me about the first day he noticed her--shuffling from aisle to aisle, unsure of what to buy. He thought she was just there looking for something special.
I stopped him, my arms full of fresh produce and bottled drinks. "You do know what happened to her, right?"
"Oh, she come in one day, tol' me all about the accident, how she can't do some things. I seen her comin' in one day with a man, could be your dad--"
I smiled. No other man would have been with her, I was sure. No other man had gotten close enough. "Yep, that's my dad."
"I seen her with the man walkin' around a little bit, then she was gone. I never knew where she went."
"She's all right," I assured him. It was the standard spiel: some days good, some not, overall in good health. "But she's not any better," I added. I thought about asking him to pray for her, but I wasn't sure how he'd take the request.
"Oh, she come in--she talks to me good. We talk about a lot of things," he said. His face kept its animation as he talked, reflecting his genuine care. Finally, after all these years, my mother mattered to someone outside our close circle of family and church friends. "Tell her I been thinkin' about her."
"Just pray for her," I told him as I set my things on the counter to pay. By now, we had talked enough that I knew I could take the risk.
"That's what the church of God is called to do--to pray."
"You tell her to come back," he said as I gathered my items to leave. "If she comes down here, just know that I'll be lookin' out for her--and that comes from the heart."
Pushing my way out the heavy burglar-proof door and into the Texas heat, my thanksgiving spilled over into tears of joy.