I turned down aisle four in search of taco shells, as Dan and I decided that it was time to give into our craving for his famous ‘Bean Goo Tacos’. The grocery store was insane, and I was already frazzled from swimming through the frantic sea of shoppers eager to get home to dinner.
Aisle four was congested, and I found a stocky elderly gentleman in a large white cowboy hat staked out with his cart right in front of the taco shell section. I parked my cart and began looking for the brand we liked. The gentleman turned to me, a smile on his broad face.
Am I in your way?
No, Sir- not at all. Just searching for taco shells. What a selection, eh?
He looked at me intently.
Where are you from? You sound like you’re from the Midwest…but I don’t hear so good anymore.
I grew up in Florida, but my folks are from Tennessee. (I smiled conspiratorially.)
Hmfph…Sure do sound like you’re from the Midwest. My wife sent me for soft taco shells, and I can’t find ’em for the life of me.
I can help you- I just saw them…yep- here they are!
The man broke out into the biggest smile.
Well I’ll be. Where do you live?
Southside, close to UAB.
You don’t say- we live on 15th!
We live on 17th. Well, neighbor- My name’s Denise.
I put my hand out and he took it, beaming with delight.
I’m John. I feel like I need to buy you something- you saved the day with the taco shells. Anything you want- it’s yours!
I laughed and shook my head.
How about a smile, John- that’s good enough for me.
Well, you’ve got that.
You have a great evening, John, and I’ll see you around the neighborhood.
He shook my hand and patted it, his smile so beautiful in his wrinkled face.
It was such a treat to meet you today, Denise. I hope our paths cross again.
Me, too, John. Me, too.
I headed to the checkout line with a huge smile on my face, the chaos of the day and rush-hour traffic forgotten, my faith in humanity renewed by an eighty-something year old man in a white cowboy hat in the taco aisle at Publix. Magic happens in the funniest places sometimes…and sometimes it shows up wearing a white hat.