Bobby Lee

Bobby Lee

From Chicken Soup for the Preteen Soul

Bobby Lee

Love and kindness are never wasted. They always make a difference. They bless the one who receives them, and they bless you, the giver.

Barbara De Angelis

I walked home with my little brother every day the same way, past an oil refinery. Mom always told us to walk together and never to talk to strangers. One day, that walk home changed forever. As my brother and I passed the oil refinery, I heard an old man’s voice.

“Hey there, children.”

I turned and saw a very old man standing there with a sweet smile on his face.

“Hi,” I answered, still keeping my distance.

“Would you like a soda pop? I know you walk by here every day. I don’t mean you any harm.”

I was already hot from walking and carrying my heavy backpack, but I knew what my mother would do once my little brother ratted on me for talking to strangers.

“No thanks. I’m not allowed to talk to strangers,” I replied.

“Oh, I understand. And your mama’s right. My name’s Bobby. Now run along,” he said as he disappeared behind the gate of the refinery.

What a strange man, I thought. But I also felt bad, thinking I may have insulted him by calling him a stranger.

I went home and reported to my mom what had happened. My mother told me that I was right not to talk to strangers, so I tried avoiding this stranger for the following few days, but it was impossible. Other streets were not as safe to walk on, and every time we passed the refinery, a familiar voice would say, “Hello there, children.”

Then one day, my family was taking a walk around the neighborhood. We were just about to pass the refinery when I noticed the gate was ajar. I remember silently praying that Bobby would appear and prove once and for all that he was a “good” stranger. And there he was.

He smiled as he approached my mother, “Well, you must be Little Miss Pretty’s mama! And you must be her daddy! It is so nice to meet you.”

The genuine smile and surprise on my parents’ faces were all I needed to see. They spoke for a few minutes and then, walking home, my parents said it would be safe for us to visit Bobby after school.

My brother and I would stop to visit Bobby after school every day after that. He would invite us into his tiny office to talk about my schoolwork, my friends and sports.

It wasn’t long before I started getting a few friends to walk home with me just to meet Bobby. Before long, a group of about fourteen kids went daily to visit Bobby and receive our sodas and gum. Thinking back, I now realize that Bobby bought all those treats just for us . . . and there were a lot of us to treat!

We visited Bobby every day after school for about three years! My mother finally decided it was time to do something nice for Bobby. So, with some thought and a lot of effort, she arranged for a plaque-giving ceremony to be held at the refinery on Father’s Day. All of the children who visited Bobby, and even some of their parents, were invited. And you know what? Most of them came.

On the plaque, my mother had engraved “To the Neighborhood Grandfather,” and all of our names were engraved below that. I remember that Bobby cried when he received it. I don’t think he’d ever been surrounded with so much adoration in his long life.

The following holiday, my mother gave Bobby an enlarged photograph of the “Neighborhood Grandfather ceremony” with all of us kids standing around him.

One cold afternoon in February, we stopped by as usual, only to be told that Bobby had died. I remember crying for days after hearing the news. He really had been like another grandfather to me.

My mother went with two other mothers to the funeral service. There, right on the coffin, were three items: the American flag folded into a triangle shape (as is customary for war veterans), the plaque we gave him and the photograph of that memorable Father’s Day ceremony with all of us kids standing around him. Bobby had no children. I guess we were his children.

To this day I think about him—an old man with no responsibilities to family, taking in a group of “strange” little kids who ended up meaning so much to him. I know now there was a reason why I met Bobby and why a group of us went to see him every day. He was able to die knowing that somebody loved him.

Daphne M. Orenshein

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