It was a dark and stormy day when my friend Dale Enstrom and I started out to do errands. We were both tired. The night before, we did three hours of music in a teaching concert for the junior and senior high youth of Calvary Chapel, Laguna Creek, in preparation for their singing on my new album of Scripture Choruses (see post “It’s About Time”). That morning, Dan Worley drove five hours in the rain to bring me Hedy’s harness, which I’d forgotten because I was tired after three days of recording the tracks for the album. Dan was tired too, because he had just spent three days recording Dale and bass player Robert Watson for that project.
I live half an hour from the nearest Burger King. Real shopping is more than an hour away, so if I want specialty items (such as materials for a rain coat for Hedy, who hates to get wet), I have to wait till I get to a big city. Elk Grove is just such a city. So it was that, tired as he was, Dale was willing to be my driver (we call him Sherpa Dale) and take me wherever I needed to go.
My first stop was Henry’s, with Sean, the happiest butcher I’ve ever met. Henry’s has meat without growth hormones and they make their own sausage. I usually buy in bulk because there’s nothing like Henry’s meats around where I live. But this time I had to return some sausage. Too salty. I took it to Sarah, the perky checker I recognized from before. She said she was going to call Sean and he would take care of me. Oh no! I didn’t want him to feel bad. But there he was, coming on the run. He apologized profusely, authorized the refund, and said to come back to the meat counter where he would load me up for free.
After the salty sausage, I wasn’t sure I wanted more sausage, even for free, but Bob, who, did food demonstrations and education at Henry’s, was passing out samples of the chicken sausage with freshly made salsa of strawberries, peppers, and tomatoes. Sean called over the counter, “I made the sausage fresh today. Everything is really fresh. I promise!” The sausage was delicious.
The first thing Bob said was, “I know we’re not supposed to pet the dog,” which immediately endeared him to me. Bob had a cheerful disposition that I remembered from the gluten free seminar Henry’s hosted late last year. Sean was busy taking care of customers who crowded around his counter, but we were so interested in Bob’s information on pesticides that we didn’t mind waiting. Actually, Sean had to wait a little for us. We were getting the recipe for the salsa.
Sean knew I couldn’t read the tags on the sausage so he described the new flavors he had just created and packaged them up for me, hardly pausing, reminding me of other flavors I’d had in the past, The pile in the cart kept getting bigger. Sean kept saying, “This is all free. I want to make it up to you. I want to make you happy.” Then, having gifted me with many times my original purchase, Sean said, “How about a steak? Oh, you like ribeye.” He remembered my favorite cut.
I own my business. I know that things go wrong. What matters most is what you do when they do. I can tell you that Sean’s generosity went far beyond the meat in the basket in the way of good will it created. But more than the meat, it was his extravagant and cheerful way of handling the whole thing. Bob too. Sarah too. And Lawrence, who checked my additional groceries out at the end. The people that staff that store seem to all be like that (the other butchers too) and it makes me look forward to going there. It’s like being in one of those small, family-owned markets where they remember your name and are glad to see you—only it’s a big one.
Then we went to JoAnn to get clear vinyl and sticky-back Velcro to make a raincoat for Hedy. I didn’t know what I was doing, but armed with a concept, I stepped up to the counter trusting that the clerk on the other side would know what to do.
I explained to Susan that I wanted a waterproof coat to go over Hedy’s harness. The raincoat I had for her was thin and went under the harness. Because it is not waterproof, it gets soggy and is, essentially, no help at all. Though I’d researched online for an over-the-harness raincoat, I could find none. So, being my father’s daughter, I decided to design one myself. Susan suggested clear vinyl, an idea I liked because we guide dog users have enough trouble with access, especially in restaurants, and the harness would still be totally visible while all the leather parts were protected from rain. But how to get it to stay on the dog? Sticky-back Velcro. I could just slap it on and not have to sew.
Susan looked at the Velcro, diagnosed problems with the belly strap, and suggested tying the coat with a piece of narrow webbing instead. “Tie a bow,” she said with a smile. I left feeling, “I can do this! This will work!”
We went to Trader Joe’s after that. I was still so happy from my time with the upbeat, helpful, resourceful people I’d encountered in my shopping. I was wishing I could send Sean a big bouquet of flowers. You know—a floral delivery with a little card. A nice surprise. Then I remembered seeing bouquets along the first aisle. Impulsively, I asked Dale if we could stop back by Henry’s and, being the accommodating, patient, and flexible sherpa he is, he said we could.
“This happy flower reminds me of you,” I said, handing a big sunflower to Sean, who started apologizing again as soon as he saw me. “You don’t have to apologize anymore,” I said. “You made this a sunny day for me.” Then I gave one to Bob. The last sunflowers went to Alice, whom I first met right after my father died. She had armed Nathan and me with chocolate for the long drive to the funeral. With sunflowers in her hand, Alice told me I had made her day.
The rain had let up as Dale and I drove out of Henry’s parking lot. Seven years ago on that day, Dan had driven me through the night ten hours to Claremont so I could see my mom one last time before they took her body away. Dawn was just beginning to gray the dark when we pulled into the driveway of my parents’ house. The lights were off. I was afraid to go in. “Do you want me to go in first?” Dan asked. I nodded. What if she looked horrible, frozen in the last agonies of death? I couldn’t bear it. We walked wordless to the front door. I unlocked it. Softly, Dan walked in.
“It’s okay,” he said. “Your dad is asleep nearby. Your mom looks like she’s asleep.”
The sky was lighter as I carefully made my way to the hospital bed. The windows were open and the salmon-colored clivias were in full bloom just outside in the planter at my mothers head. Birds were riotous, singing in the dawn. Then I noticed how still it was inside the house. Silence. The machines were off. On my mother’s cheek was just a hint of where the oxygen tube had been. There were no tubes anywhere. She was free at last. And so beautiful. So very, very beautiful.
I’m telling you this because, for the past six years, I have started to get uneven for about a month before that date. I may be preoccupied with projects and activities, but my body remembers, and I start veering off course like a shopping cart with a bad wheel. Then I remember. It’s close to March 25. This is probably the time she was having those hallucinations. This is the date of the last time I talked to her. And then…this is the date of the phone call, the long drive, the strangely beautiful clivia-colored, bird riot last long look at my mother’s earthly form in the purity and peace of a death with no sting. She was in the presence of God, and her whole body knew it and released her with its blessing.
I’m telling you this because every March 25 has been a sadness to me until this one—the one that was full of friendly, happy, helpful people who poured their goodness upon me. I was just another customer, but they treated me as a dear and treasured friend.
And then, of course, there was Sherpa Dale, who carted me around good-naturedly and uncomplainingly though he’d had almost no sleep for more than a week, and Dan, who had driven the mission of mercy to bring me Hedy’s harness, and who, seven years ago, took me through the night into the silent house to see my mother one last time.
As I stood at the foot of my mother’s bed, the Lord said to me, “The blessings will far outweigh the suffering and sorrow.” I replied, “There was a lot of suffering and sorrow.”
Seven years later, I can say there have been many blessings—some of them quite huge. And now, this seventh anniversary, this March 25, 2011, will be remembered for the people that filled it with their gifts of human warmth and caring. The Lord continues to keep His word. He redeems the worst, turning it to good in ways that expand our hearts in trust that in Him there is nothing that lies dead or destroyed forever. He will transform it all. He promised.