45: Angel at Our Door

45: Angel at Our Door

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Random Acts of Kindness

Angel at Our Door

Every house where love abides and friendship is a guest, is surely home, and home sweet home, for there the heart can rest.

~Henry Van Dyke

The insistent pounding on the door brought me quickly from my kitchen. With three little ones down for a nap, I hurried to answer before they were all awakened prematurely.

We had just moved into the neighbourhood and I couldn’t imagine who it would be. Opening the door a crack revealed an old man dressed in dirty clothing, wearing mud-encrusted rubber boots. From his hand hung a torn plastic bag.

“Can I help you?” I asked, hoping he had the wrong address.

“Would ya like to buy some fresh garden vegetables?” His voice was shaky with age but his faded blue eyes were hopeful.

“Are they from your garden?” Peering inside his shabby bag, I saw mostly dirt, with a hint of carrots.

“Yes.” His voice was soft and scratchy. “And I kin get some apples from a tree in my yard. Would ya like some of those too?”

My heart softened at his neglected appearance, and I wondered if he desperately needed the bit of money he was asking for his produce. With a sigh, I gestured him in. “Please step inside and I’ll get my purse.”

The next day, he knocked at our door again. This time, my gregarious little four-year-old got there first. “Oh, hello. Would you like to come in for tea?” Heidi’s high-pitched-voice carried an adult inflection.

Without hesitating, the old man stepped inside and held out a broken basket with several bruised apples resting at the bottom. “From my tree,” he said, removing a worn cap that had seen better days. “Thought ya might like to make a pie.”

There was no mistaking the wistful look in his eye.

The three of us sat at the kitchen table and sipped our tea, Heidi’s cup containing a much weaker version. Sheer delight in hosting a visitor was evident in her never-ending stream of questions. “What is your name? Where do you live? Why are your clothes so dirty? Will your mother be mad at you?”

The homeless-looking man chuckled as he attempted to answer each question. His name was Mr. Locket and he lived around the corner. His wife had passed away several years before, and his children all lived far away. He was lonely. His need for companionship had sent him door to door under the ruse of selling fruit and vegetables. Ours was the only door opened to him that day.

Eventually, the cookies were gone and he struggled to his feet. Shuffling his way to the door, he turned and offered us a cheerful grin and a wave goodbye.

As I watched him limp painfully to an ancient bicycle propped against our house, my heart melted.

Once on his bike, he wobbled back down the road, perhaps a little less lonely than before. He had promised to return tomorrow, and I knew what I wanted to do.

The next day, the children excitedly awaited his visit. The table was set with china and silver, with fancy napkins folded neatly beside each plate. A small bouquet of garden flowers, picked by little hands, adorned the centre of the table. Tantalizing aromas of cinnamon and sugar filled the house as a steaming apple pie beckoned from the table.

As he entered the kitchen, he took in the efforts made on his behalf, and his eyes filled with unshed tears. He focused on the golden-crusted, sugar-topped, apple pie. Pulling up a chair beside my two little girls, he immediately seemed at home, and we watched with amazement as he devoured half the dessert.

Wiping his whiskery lips, he commented, “Yur pies sure taste a lot better’n mine!”

My curiosity was piqued. “How do you make your pies?”

“Well, I just cut up them apples and put ‘em in a pan. Then I bake ‘em.”

I smiled. A few simple tips would help him create at least a better version.

The next day, we found a basket sitting on the step. Inside were several rosy apples.

I slipped another pie into the oven that night.

As the days wore on, Mr. Locket became a daily visitor to our active home. In his quiet and gentle way, he endeared himself to each child. I loved to peek around the kitchen door and watch as he sat in our big comfy chair with one or two little ones curled up on his lap, gazing up at him with rapt attention as he read a children’s book or told a story.

Mr. Locket became an honorary member of our family. When the little ones were tucked into their beds for an afternoon nap, he would rest his weary head on the back of the chair and join the babies in slumber. He usually went home when the sun dipped low in the sky, but stayed for dinner if pie was on the menu.

Our lively family antics at the dinner table always brought a smile to his weathered face. Later, as my husband put the children to bed, I’d stand in the doorway watching this dear old friend pedal his way home in the dark.

One day he revealed a hidden passion. “Ya know, I used to go to the library and get books ta read. It helps fill in the long, quiet nights. Don’t rightly feel like riding that far anymore, though. S’pose you could lend me a book?”

“That’s a wonderful idea!” I couldn’t believe we hadn’t discussed this sooner. I loved to read, too, and I delighted in sharing books. “What if I put a stack beside your chair for you to read during your visits, and then you can take home anything you want to finish?” His answering smile said it all.

It was fun to see which books he selected and watch him disappear between the pages. He still read to the children each day, and the name “Grandpa Locket” slipped effortlessly into our conversations. Both sets of my children’s grandparents lived far away, so the children missed having them attend their Sunday school concerts and Christmas pageants. Although extremely deaf, Mr. Locket was now the grandpa that came to “Ooh” and “Ahh” over each little one’s part in the programs.

“Did you hear me, Mr. Locket?” Heidi would chirp.

“Well, I didn’t rightly hear ya, but I know it was good!”

Heidi would beam, her tiny hand grasping his old gnarled one. The two had become best friends.

Three years after first meeting Grandpa Locket, we learned we were being moved across the country to Ontario. That night, I tossed and turned. Pink sky began to peek through the window before I’d found a gentle way to break the news to Grandpa Locket.

When he arrived that morning, I took a deep breath and blurted it out. “Mr. Locket,” I began, my voice wobbling. “We’re going to be moving very soon. We’re all very sad. You’ve become a treasured part of this family and we — we — we’ll miss you.”

The old man’s chin slowly dropped to his chest as reality hit. Moisture glistened in the corners of his eyes.

Swallowing the lump in my throat, I took his worn, calloused hands in mine. “I promise to keep in touch with you and write letters regularly. The kids will send you pictures, and I’ll ship as many books as you can read.” My throat tightened and I couldn’t speak any more.

He nodded and softly said, “Thank you for all your kindnesses to an old man. When I was lonely, ya took me in. When I needed a family, ya included me. My life’s bin happy cuz of you.” He reached down and rested his free hand on Heidi’s head, gazing at her as if memorizing every delicate feature.

During our last visit together, we all hugged him tightly.

Without looking back, the old man limped out the door, straddled his rusty bike, and pedalled down the road.

With heavy hearts, we watched the familiar figure disappear around the corner for the last time. As we closed the door, we knew that a part of our lives was drawing to a close and a new stage was beginning, but no matter where we were, we’d never forget this incredibly precious man.

I kept my word and wrote regularly. The kids made him pictures, and I mailed books every month. We never received a letter in return, but somehow we knew he anxiously checked his mailbox every day to see if anything had arrived from us.

About a year later, a small envelope was delivered to our home — a letter from Mr. Locket’s daughter. She informed us that our dear old friend had passed away. She’d found the letters, pictures, and gifts that we had sent, carefully tucked away in one of his dresser drawers. “I’m so grateful for your loving care for my father,” she wrote. “I can see how much you meant to him, too.”

With tremendous sadness, my husband and I shared this news with the children. Although we grieved the loss of our friend, we also felt a sense of joy. Remembering his gentle spirit and spontaneous chuckle made us smile. And we would never forget his love for apple pie.

We still feel it wasn’t just an old man who knocked on our door that day, but an angel in disguise. We’re so grateful for the unexpected love that swept into our lives the moment we opened that door.

~Heather Rodin

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