Love makes you do funny things, Randall Taylor reflected as he hit the button to raise the garage door on the cold winter morning outside.
Heading for the grocery store before sunrise definitely counted as one of those things. An icy gust of wind entering the garage blew through the front of his coat, sending a shiver down his back and prompting him to zip it up hastily. Well, maybe ‘funny’ wasn’t exactly the right word, he amended quickly.
A tour in the Marines, followed by a long career working in the oil fields where predawn work was a necessity, had combined to inculcate in him the habit of rising at 4 am every day of the week, even on Sunday when church didn’t start until 10:30. After he’d retired, he’d tried to sleep in but the habit was so ingrained in him he just couldn’t do it. Finally, he gave up trying and resigned himself to being an early riser for the rest of his life.
But getting up early didn’t mean he wanted to go outside early. Not in the winter. Not when it was 33 degrees. That’s where love came in.
He and Lilly, his wife, had drawn babysitting duties for their two granddaughters. Their son-in-law, Frank worked in the oil fields where Randall had gotten him hired years ago, and their daughter, Alice, held a post in the collections department of a local bank. He and Lilly always thought Alice should have been a lawyer because she liked to argue so much but she’d proven pretty adept at getting people to pay their loans at the bank too. “She argues them into submission,” Lilly liked to say. But while she and Frank were at work, he and Lilly had to take care of their granddaughters.
Sally and Patricia (but no one called her that, she was always Patty) were five and four respectively and always expected to have cereal when Alice dropped them off in the morning on her way to work. They were very determined in their cute little girl mannerisms, demanding that Nonnie and Bop give them cereal for breakfast.
No one could remember why Sally started calling Randall, Bop, but once she started, she stuck with it. When Patty came along she followed in her big sister’s footsteps and called him Bop too. He’d tried once or twice to correct them and get them to call him Gramps or something but they wouldn’t change.
“But you’re Bop!” they insisted in their little girl voices.
Nothing he said had made an impression on them, so Bop it was.
Not that he cared anymore. He loved them too much to care anymore. Every morning they would shriek, “Nonnie! Bop!” and run to their arms when Alice got them out of her car. All day long they wanted piggyback rides or to have tickle fights. They wanted him to come to say the blessing at breakfast and lunch. When it was nap time, they argued over who would read a story to who. Sometimes they both wanted Nonnie to read to them and sometimes they both wanted Bop to read to them. Then, in the evening when Alice came to pick them up, they both wanted Bop to carry them out to the car, buckle them in, and give them sugars. He always did. He loved them too much not to.
So, here he was at O-dark-thirty in the morning, heading down to the grocery store to get milk for their cereal.
Lilly’s car was warm in their two-car garage while his was parked outside. Years ago, the garage had been big enough for two vehicles. Then Lilly started putting things out in the garage “just for now” until there wasn’t any room for his pickup anymore. She’d been promising for 10 years to clean out his side of the garage, she’d even had a few garage sales to get rid of stuff, but somehow it was never quite enough. At this late stage of the game, he didn’t think there would ever be room in the garage for his car again.
Most of the time he didn’t mind, except on cold winter mornings when the Pumpkin was sure to be freezing cold when he got in it. It was a 2005 orange Honda Element, tall and boxy looking. He and Lilly had fallen in love with the headroom inside it because they were both tall, but it did look a lot like pumpkin, so that’s what they called it. It had been Lilly’s car until his pickup finally died of old age. He didn’t drive much anymore so he got the Pumpkin and the new SUV went to Lilly. It was reliable, but sitting outside in the winter air, it felt like an icebox when he got in and closed the door.
He started it up and flipped on the heat but it wouldn’t have time to warm up before he got to the grocery store, just eight blocks away. He backed out of the driveway and eased on up the road. The undercarriage squeaked from age and there were a few rattles here and there but it was probably good for another 100,000 miles or so before it bit the dust.
He saw one die-hard jogger on the sidewalk but aside from that, the streets were deserted, with only occasional pools of light from the street lamps breaking the darkness. He reached the end of the street where it T’d into Richmond Road, paused to look both ways, then turned right toward the grocery store. Immediately he saw the brightly lit parking lot. Only a few cars were there, mostly from the night crew stocking the shelves.
He parked the Pumpkin as close to the doors as possible then got out, turning up the collar of his coat against the wind. He hurried inside, feeling a blast of warm air as the doors slide open at his approach. He gave a sigh of relief.
One of the guys on the night shift heard him and glanced up as he came in. “Cold out there, isn’t it?”
Randall nodded as he grabbed a small basket from the stack by the door. “I don’t mind the temperature so much as the wind.”
The guy was arranging a display of bananas. “I know what you mean. I nearly froze counting these when they came off the truck this morning.”
“I’ll bet,” Randall said. Seeing them reminded him they were out of fruit. He grabbed a bunch and stuffed them in a clear plastic bag. “Sorry to have to ruin your pretty display.”
The guy laughed. “If it doesn’t get messed up so I have to fix it again, I don’t get paid.”
Randall laughed along with him. “Amen, brother. Amen.” He waved at him then headed for the back of the store where the milk was kept. His mood was brightened by the interaction with the friendly worker. He’d never met the man, but a little lighthearted banter, even with a stranger, always lifted his spirits.
The milk display case was full. Every row was stacked with gallons of milk going back into the refrigerated unit as far as he could see. He checked the dates on the jugs but he knew Sally and Patty would drink it all up long before it expired. They always did. He shook his head in amusement as he put the jug in his basket. Those two could drink milk like it was going out of style. After finishing their cereal, they’d want chocolate milk, made from milk and chocolate syrup. At lunch, they’d want more milk, then again in the afternoon. If they’d had a bigger refrigerator he’d have bought two gallons instead of only one.
As he headed for the front of the store he could see the faintest hint of sunrise through the big glass windows across the face of the building. He smiled. Sunrise was always his favorite time of day. He’d be back home in time to get a cup of coffee and watch the sun come up from his chair in front of the living room window. Working in the oil fields, sunrise had always caught him by surprise because he was so busy all the time. Now he was retired, he enjoyed the simple pleasure of being able to watch the sun come up in the morning. It was a little thing, but he looked forward to it anyway.
There was a row of self-checkout aisles but he always told everyone he was retired and didn’t need a job as a cashier. He ignored them and went to the one checkout that had a live cashier at it.
“Did you find everything you needed?” she asked. She looked like she was a few years younger than him, with a name tag that said her name was Ann.
Randall put the milk and bananas on the moving belt. “I sure did.” He glanced out the window. “It looks like it’s going to be a beautiful sunrise this morning.”
Ann nodded as she rang up his purchases. “I love working the early shift here. I get to watch it every day.” She put the milk and bananas in a sack. “That’ll be $4.46.”
He handed her a five and waited while she got his change.
He grabbed his bag, putting his change in his pocket. “Have a good day, Ann. Enjoy the sunrise.”
She smiled brightly. “You too.”
He nodded and headed back for the Pumpkin. It was still cold in the car but he felt warmer anyway because of the friendly people at the store. Maybe it was because he was friendly to them so they returned the favor. Maybe it was because going to the grocery store so early in the morning was a labor of love for his granddaughters and it showed to everyone he met. And maybe he didn’t care because whatever the reason, his heart was full and his step was light.
He wasn’t surprised when he found himself whistling as he steered the Pumpkin back home again.
Yep, it was going to be a good day.
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