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"Hello, Violet," I said when one of our customers entered the Christian gift & bookstore where I worked.
A regular shopper at the store, Violet wore her usual powder-blue sweater, lace-trimmed blouse, and gray slacks. Her black handbag hung over her left forearm, her white hair combed to its natural wave, the only thing missing, was her bright smile.
"You remember my husband passed away two months ago?" She said. "Our grandson has felt lost without him."
Violet told me her husband had prayed daily for their sixteen-year-old grandson, and that they had shared a close relationship. With a catch in her throat she said, "Joshua wonders who will pray for him now." His grief is what brought Violet in that day. She was on the hunt for something to cheer him up.
Together we searched the store shelves for just the right gift to help ease his pain. "What about this?" I suggested pointing to a framed painting of a boy carrying a backpack through a darkened forest. Light shone through the trees and radiated from an angel who watched over the young boy's path. Violet and I stood side by side and stared up at the 18x20 inch picture, titled "Never Alone."
"Oh, that would be perfect," Violet said. "If only I had that much money."
I hesitated. Though we had no coupons advertised, I said, "For you, Violet - I believe there's a special 20% discount today."
"That's nice of you, but it's still more than I can afford." With her head down, she confided, "I only have $20.00 to spend. Thirty if I dip into my household money," she added.
On more than one occasion in nearly eight years of managing the store I'd make up the difference when a customer fell short and had a real need. But this time I had no money to spare.
A chilled November wind swept through the front door into the store and rattled the stained glass sun catcher display as a thirty-something man and a girl about eight entered the store. I greeted them with a smile and said, "I'll be right with you."
"No hurry," said the man dressed in a long tan trench coat. He stepped over and stood behind us while the girl waited by the counter. "Nice picture," he said to Violet. You going to buy that?"
"Well," she paused, and then went on to tell him her dilemma.
He nodded as he listened with a look of genuine compassion on his face. When she finished her story, he said, "I'll pay the balance."
Violet raised a gentle protest, "I couldn't let you do that." She said, "I don't even know who you are. And I certainly shouldn't have shared my troubles."
Pointing to the young girl who I assumed was his daughter, he said, "We simply enjoy helping people. She's always giving food to someone. Besides, you said this picture is perfect for your grandson."
"Yes … It is true. I think every time Joshua sees the angel it would remind him though Grandpa is gone, he's not alone."
"That settles it then," the gentleman said. He reached up and removed the picture from the wall, handed it to me, and said, "Wrap it up, please."
He and the girl oversaw the whole operation while I retrieved a box from the back room and removed the price tag. Violet stood in front of the counter next to the pair, her hands clutched together, tears glistened in her eyes. "This is so good of you," she said to the stranger.
The Balance Paid
I rang the price into the register and subtracted the promised 20% off special. Violet set her twenty on the counter. "That leaves $79.00," I said as I looked up at the man who paid in cash. I handed the box to Violet, but the man said, "I'll carry that. Is that your blue car out front?" He told the girl to wait inside for him.
When he returned, I asked if I could help him with a purchase. He thought for a moment. He appeared to have no clear reason for his visit to the store. Almost an afterthought, he decided to purchase a card. He snatched one up from the card rack, barely giving it a glance. The girl took a small 49-cent metal Cross in My Pocket from a basket by the register.
"We'll take these," he said and pushed them across the counter. With a big smile, the brown-haired girl told me how they were always on the lookout for people who needed help.
I thanked him for helping Violet. He paid for their items and they left the store. I glanced away for only a moment and when I looked up expected to see them on the store's walkway. Then I realized, Violet's had been the only car parked by the curb. With no sign of the man and the girl, I rushed to the huge windows that fronted the entire store. Puzzled when I still didn't see them, I ran out to the curb and looked up and down the sidewalk. They had simply vanished.
I had managed the bookstore for nearly eight years and knew most of my customers by name or at least recognized their faces. But not this curious pair. I had never seen them before. Their only real purpose for visiting the store that day seemed to be to help an older woman encourage her grandson. Whether they were good Samaritans or angels, all I know is I never saw them again.
**Note: "Do Angels Carry Cash?" appears in Heavenly Company Entertaining Angels Unaware by Cecil Murphy and Twila Belk along with 45 other stories sure to inspire.
© 2011 Kathleen Kohler