I had about 45 minutes to kill between meetings and found myself at one of my favorite stores. You know – that fashionista, get-it-all-here place where you can score your bargain of the day. It was lunchtime and crowded, so the checkout line stretched well beyond the last-chance impulse purchase aisle just before the registers. Along with other shoppers, I was trying to establish my place. As I scanned those around me, I spotted an Air Force ball cap and the pleasant seventy-something face below it. He looked slightly lost and bemused, just as my Air Force veteran dad had in his last years. I found myself drawn to him. “Were you in the Air Force?” I asked. He nodded. I thanked him for his service and said, “I served in the Air Force, in Strategic Air Command.” He grabbed my hand and said, “God bless you.” His wife was right there, and we exchanged pleasantries, comparing our military lives. He had been in EEE (Electrical, Electronics, and Electromechanical). We both came from military families. Just as she had, I had married an Air Force guy.
As the line moved, I was aware he was right behind me. At some point, I turned back and said something to him. He smiled. His wife mouthed the words, “He has Alzheimer’s.” “I know,” I said. I was well familiar with the symptoms. I turned and looked directly at him, our eyes meeting. “You remind me of my father.” (He had been an electrical engineer.) The man reached for my hand and held it warmly. “You remind me of someone beautiful.” The same soft smile I had first noticed never left his face. Again, he said, “God bless you.” I could feel the tears start to form. Fortunately, it was my turn to check out, and I hurried to my register, but I still can’t shake the memory and rare gift of our few moments together. I’m not sure I want to.