Warm in Your Heart

Warm in Your Heart

From A 3rd Serving of Chicken Soup for the Soul

Warm in Your Heart

It was a bitterly cold Denver morning. The weather was unpredictable. First, a warming trend gave the snow a chance to melt and run away, slipping from sight into the storm drains or running silently along the curbs, across side yards and under fences to the low-lying areas where it completed its vanishing act. Then the cold returned with a vengeance, bringing yet another coat of the white powdered precipitation, freezing what little remained from winter’s previous blast and hiding it, an icy trap for street people.

This was a day for staying home, for having a cold and waiting for Mom to bring a cup of soup. It was a day for listening to the all-news radio and imagining the possibility of being snowbound without being too inconvenienced. That was the way the day was supposed to be.

I had a job speaking at the Denver Convention Center to a couple hundred other people who, like me, were unable to have the sniffles and stay home for Mom to bring us soup. Instead, we gathered at the convention center, unable to do more about the weather than to talk about it.

I needed a battery for my wireless microphone. What a lousy time to have gotten lazy. . . I had failed to pack a spare. There was no choice, really. I needed a battery. So I headed into the wind, head bowed, collar up, shuffling in too-thin dress shoes.

Each step brought my thin suit pants close to my backside. The material was cold and reminded me that my mother would have never let me out of the house had she known I had dressed so foolishly.

Around the corner, I spotted a small sign announcing that a 7Eleven convenience store was within sight. If I walked quickly and lengthened my stride, I could reach the front door and shelter from the brisk wind without drawing a breath of lung-burning air. People who live in Denver like to play with outsiders by telling them that winter in Denver means enduring a pleasant kind of cold. “It’s a much drier kind of cold,” report the Denver folks, when their relatives ask how they like life in the Mile-High city. Drier, my foot! It’s cold enough to give the famous brass monkey reason to move. And humidity, or the lack of it, doesn’t seem all that important when gusts of 40-mile-an-hour Arctic reminders are blowing against your backside.

Inside the 7-Eleven were two souls. The one behind the counter wore a name badge saying she was Roberta. Judging by her appearance, Roberta probably wished that she were home bringing hot soup and soothing words
to her own little one. Instead, she was spending her day manning an outpost for commerce in a nearly abandoned, downtown Denver. She would be a beacon, a refuge for the few who were foolish enough to be out and about on a day so cold.

The other refugee from the cold was a tall, elderly gentleman who seemed comfortable with his surroundings. He was in absolutely no hurry to step back through the front door and risk sailing through town at the mercy of the wind and ice-covered sidewalks. I couldn’t help but think that the gentleman had lost his mind or his way. To be out on such a day, shuffling through the merchandise of a 7-Eleven, the man must be completely daft.

I didn’t have time to be concerned with an old man who had taken leave of his senses. I needed a battery, and there were a couple hundred important people who had things left to do with their lives waiting for me back at the convention center. We had a purpose.

The old man somehow found his way to the counter ahead of me. Roberta smiled. He said not a single word. Roberta picked up each of his meager purchases and entered each amount into the cash register. The old man had dragged himself into the Denver morning for a lousy muffin and a banana. What a sorry mistake that was!

For a muffin and a banana, a sane man could wait until spring and then perhaps enjoy the opportunity to saunter the streets when they had returned to reasonableness. Not this guy. He had sailed his old carcass into the morning as if there were no tomorrow.

Perhaps there would be no tomorrow. After all, he was pretty old.

When Roberta had figured the total, a tired, old hand fished deep into the trench coat pocket. “Come on,” I thought, “You may have all day, but I have things to do!”

The fishing hand caught a change purse as old as the man himself. A few coins and a wrinkled dollar bill fell onto the counter. Roberta treated them as though she were about to receive a treasure.

When the meager purchases had been placed into a plastic bag, something remarkable happened. Although not a word had been spoken by her elderly friend, an old, tired hand slowly extended over the counter. The hand trembled, then steadied.

Roberta spread the plastic handles on the bag and gently slipped them over his wrist. The fingers that dangled into space were gnarled and spotted with the marks of age.

Roberta smiled larger.

She scooped up the other tired, old hand and in an instant, she was holding them both, gathered in front of her brown face.

She warmed them. Top and bottom. Then sides.

She reached and pulled the scarf that had flown nearly off his broad but stooped shoulders. She pulled it close around his neck. Still he said not a single word. He stood as if to cement the moment in his memory. It would have to last at least until the morrow, when he would once again shuffle through the cold.

Roberta buttoned a button that had eluded the manipulation of the old hands.

She looked him in the eye and, with a slender finger, mockingly scolded him.

“Now, Mr. Johnson. I want you to be very careful.” She then paused ever so slightly for emphasis and added sincerely, “I need to see you in here tomorrow.”

With those last words ringing in his ears, the old man had his orders. He hesitated, then turned, and one tired foot shuffling barely in front of the other, he moved slowly into the bitter Denver morning.

I realized then that he had not come in search of a banana and a muffin. He came in to get warm. In his heart.

I said, “Wow , Roberta! That was really some customer service. Was that your uncle or a neighbor or someone special?”

She was almost offended that I thought that she only gave such wonderful service to special people. To Roberta, apparently, everyone is special.

Scott Gross

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