AND A LITTLE CHILD SHALL LEAD THEM

AND A LITTLE CHILD SHALL LEAD THEM

From Chicken Soup for the Girlfriend's Soul

And a Little Child Shall Lead Them

Little friends may prove great friends.

Aesop

The setting was a McDonald’s restaurant in a small community in central Pennsylvania. Most of us think of dining at McDonald’s as “fast food.” Not so for a lonely, retired eighty-year-old woman, whose physical and mental health was waning. Each day, she arrived early in the morning and sat at a back booth until late afternoon, seeking companionship and hoping to be included in the conversations of nearby patrons.

June was her name, and home was a second-floor apartment in the nearby college town. Despite the steep steps that were becoming increasingly difficult for her, the pleasant ambience of McDonald’s drew her to the corner she called her “home away from home.” Each day this proud woman sat bundled up in the same back corner, wearing a familiar babushka on her head, her eyes always hidden behind dark sunglasses, her heavy coat buttoned.

During the fall of 2001, my four-year-old granddaughter, Catie, attended preschool three days a week; I picked her up each day at the sitter’s and took her to lunch before I dropped her off at school. Most children love “Mickey D’s,” and Catie was no exception! Catie’s favorite seat was one table away from June on the same bench seat.

I must admit I became tired of eating hamburgers, and I would often ask Catie, “Could we please go somewhere else today?” Her answer was always an adamant: “No, Nana, I have to see June.” Each day as we approached the parking lot, Catie’s eyes would search for June’s battered 1975 Monte Carlo, with the cluttered interior containing June’s “treasures.” When she spotted June’s car in the handicapped space, she was elated. As soon as I got her out of her car seat, she would race ahead of me, bounding through the restaurant, craning her neck to see if June was in her spot. If she was, they played a little game. Catie would pretend to hide behind a display, peek around the corner, then race into June’s arms. Many patrons watched for Catie and smiled tenderly as this adorable little blonde child clasped her friend tightly, proving to all that friendship transcends age. As I reflect on this relationship, I realize that God planned for these two to meet and to bond.

Over the months, Catie would bring June small gifts: a key chain from her first trip to Disney World, a bouquet of flowers hand-carried to her apartment when June was sick, a mug for her birthday with a photo of Catie perched on June’s lap in their favorite corner of McDonald’s.

Unfortunately, in the fall of 2002, just as Catie entered kindergarten, June’s health deteriorated to the point where she had to have dialysis treatments three times a week. Many days, her seat would be empty when we arrived at McDonald’s. Catie always asked one of the clerks about her friend. Sometimes, the manager or one of the workers, who had also befriended June, would give us an update. Near Christmastime, Catie and I received the news that June had gone to a nursing home.

When we first found June’s room, she was lying in bed with her eyes closed. June seemed to sense our presence, and, as her eyes opened, she spotted Catie. Catie walked over to the bed, June sat up and they hugged. Tears filled my eyes as I realized the power of the moment. They talked a mile a minute, and June showed Catie the bird-feeder outside her window. This visit was a ray of sunshine for June, whose life was far from sunny. Her diabetes was worsening; her beloved car had to be sold; and the outlook for the future was bleak.

Before we left that day, June opened Catie’s Christmas present, a pink fleece blanket to keep June’s feet warm. She loved it, and they hugged tightly once again. Over the next few months, school kept Catie busy, yet each time we went to McDonald’s, Catie’s eyes were drawn to that back corner.

Before Easter, I received a phone call from a McDonald’s employee telling me that June’s health was failing; they were going to have to amputate her leg. Catie sent a card to June, telling her she would pray for her. Soon, we got even worse news: June had passed away.

Catie would be in school on the day of June’s funeral, but we sent two pink roses with some babies’ breath. The morning of the visitation, I walked into the funeral home to pay my respects. Only two small flower arrangements were visible, and the people there were few. As I walked down the aisle, a woman who identified herself as June’s niece approached me, wondering who I was. When I told her that I was the grandmother of Catie—June’s friend from McDonald’s—she grabbed my hand and led me to the casket. There lay this peaceful angel with her white babushka on her head and with Catie’s two pink roses in her hands. I soon learned from her niece that roses had been June’s favorite flowers. The pink fleece blanket covered her legs, and on top of the blanket were Catie’s card and the photo of the two of them in the corner booth at McDonald’s, Catie sitting on June’s lap and June resplendent in her trademark dark glasses and babushka. Tears flowed from my eyes. In that moment, I truly came to see what a gift God had given the world in my granddaughter, whose genuine love had wholly embraced this lonely, elderly woman.

While taking Catie to school the day of June’s funeral, we talked about my saying good-bye to June for her. She asked me about the memorial card that was lying on the seat next to me. I read it to her, and we talked about their birthdays both being in June, but that this year, June would be in heaven for hers. As she got out of the car, she wondered if she could take the card to school and I told her that was fine. She bounded up the sidewalk with her friend Carly, who asked her what she had in her hand. I heard her explain, “This is my best friend, June.”

Audrey Conway

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