Thursday, December 13, 2007
There's a new barista at my Starbucks. Well, she's new to that Starbucks but I know her from somehwere. She's in her late 40's, has black curly hair with some gray, and a heart-shaped face. She has a lilting accent I cannot identify (a little hispanic a little Indian?)and speaks in sing-song. I know her from somewhere but I can't quite place her. She's not a mom from my kids' schools. Not the gym. Maybe she was a checker at the Dominicks.
As I'm standing there trying to remember how I know her she sees me and recognition lights up her face. "How are you?" she asks as if we are old friends. Damn. Still don't know. "How is your little one?" she asks. Ah, finally a clue. When someone says my "little one" I know they mean Lilly because as my youngest, she is the only one who ever traveled solo with me. So she must be someone I knew when I used to run errands with just Lilly which narrows the timeframe down to the two years that she was an "only child" while her brother and sister were in school but before she started school.
"Oh she's great!" I answer. "She's in fourth grade now."
She smiles happily. "Bring her in some time."
The next three times I go to Starbucks we more or less repeat this scene and yet I still cannot place her so one day, after I drop my two oldest off at school early and have some time to kill before Lilly has school I say, "Hey, come to Starbucks with me and see if you remember who this lady is. I'll buy you a hot chocolate." Reluctantly, she agrees.
As soon as we walk in and get in line I see the barrista's face and my knees almost buckle. I do not know why but for some reason I feel like crying. I shake my head and swallow a lump in my throat, still not sure why this woman has this effect on me.
When it is our turn to order she smiles at Lilly and says in her delightful accent, "So sorry, no Forty-Niners today!" and BAM! it hits me and I know who she is. She is the waitress who served us every Tuesday at Walker Brothers' Pancake House that whole terrible time when Lilly was going through and then recovering from chemo. When she was bald and pale and couldn't eat a thing she could always choke down a few bites of her favorite pancakes--Forty-Niner-Flapjacks.
This lovely lady was the waitress we had every week who would say to Lilly, "The usual?" and bring the plate out with a flourish and a smile, knowing Lilly would only take a few bites and then she would have to wrap it all up to go. She always smiled when she saw us, always watched Lilly carefully, always served us like royalty.
There were a lot of angels in our lives during that time, five years ago,--friends, neighbors, family, church members, school friends. But there were more, these stranger-angels who helped us along and I don't even know their names like this barista. Once when Lilly had just lost all her hair we went out for dinner. It was a good night, we were laughing and having fun and when Jeff went to pay the bill the waiter said, "There is no bill sir, the gentleman who just left paid it for you." We have no idea who that generous person was, this stranger-angel.
I am thinking about all these angels again as I order my latte and a hot chocolate and I smile down on Lilly's head. When I look up I catch our stranger-angel smiling broadly at Lilly, still remarking about how tall she's gotten and how long her hair is and I say a little prayer for all the angels in our lives.