To the Store Clerk Who Left a Huge Heart Print on My Life

In March 2003, I turned from a confident independent “30-something” married woman to someone who could no longer make eye contact with strangers who held the door open for her at the local Fred Meyer store in Tualatin, Oregon

It was a chore to get up each day. I wasn’t eating. I was losing my hair. I was depressed and weak.   When my marriage ended, I’d stayed in my pajamas for a week and locked myself in my home. I didn’t answer the phone, door or any email. So going to the grocery store was going to be tough.

I came into Fred Meyer that day in a hollow daze. I could no longer smile or make conversation. I just wanted to get my food and get out so I could go back home and back to bed. My favorite Fred Meyer grocery clerk, Tony, looked at me and said, “Is everything OK?”

I had not told anyone what was happening in my life. No one (not even my mother) knew yet that my husband, my best friend, the man I was planning to start a family with, had left me. When Tony looked into my eyes that day, I suspect he saw my raw pain and knew that something was not right. Tony probed a bit further, “Did someone die?” I didn’t know what to say. But it was at that moment in the line at Fred Meyer’s that I told Tony what was happening in my life.

Tony was genuinely shocked; he was accustomed to seeing both my husband and me come through his line. In an odd way it was therapeutic for me to be able to say it out loud — to tell someone, a kind of stranger, what was happening to me when I felt like my whole world was ending.

Eventually I healed, and Tony was right there at checkout #13, where he watched me return from the dead and begin to smile again. I don’t know if he ever saw my ex-husband, but he told me back in 2003, if he ever saw him come through, he would slug him, which made me laugh (not an easy thing to do back then).

Three year later, when I was about to embark on another large life event — the adoption of baby girl as a single divorced woman — I went through Tony’s checkout line as usual. I was bursting to tell Tony my news. When I later arrived home with my baby girl, I proudly took her grocery shopping and once again made an effort to go through checkout #13 so Tony could meet my new bundle of joy.   Tony soon came to know my daughter. If she was ever not with me, Tony always asked about her.

That was Tony. He was one of The Mighty. He knew his customers, he knew their lives; he spread cheer and healed the wounded with his presence and his words. I thought of Tony as my angel — the one who had something cheerful to say, the one who was there to silently dry my tears when I experienced a loss, the one who was there to celebrate when something positive happened in my life.

On January 1, 2010, I went through my normal grocery shopping routine to find that there were flowers at checkout #13, but no Tony. I scanned the other checkout lines looking for Tony. I was always willing to get in Tony’s line, even if it wasn’t the shortest line, simply so that I could say hello and see his smiling face.

I walked over to the flowers and read, then re-read the announcement.  No, I thought… it can’t be possible. It can’t be him… no, no, no.  I went to one of the other checkers and asked, “Is this the Tony who lives up the street?” Yes, it was Tony. Yes, it was my Fred Meyer angel. I couldn’t hold back the tears. I walked the aisles, and all I could think about was Tony. I wanted to call a friend. But no one I might call would understand. How could the sudden death of a store clerk, a “stranger,” mean so much to me? How could his death affect me in this way?

To this day, every time I enter the Fred Meyer store, I think of Tony. I went to his funeral back then. A large crowed was there. His customers, who didn’t know more than his first name, felt the same deep loss I did.

Here’s to you, Tony, and the huge heart print you left on so many people’s lives. Your memory lives on in my heart. Nowadays, I think of you and try to think of ways to pass it on. I can never fill your shoes, but I certainly try to walk through life now in your memory.


This post originally appeared here.

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