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Bookstore encounter brings family, health into focus

Several years ago when we were still living in California, I took my wife and our two boys one day to a bookstore — not that the boys were interested in books.

But in the back section of the store, they served ice cream and delicious snacks, giving the boys as reason to favor the store. We all sat at a table inside, and I ordered some ice cream for all of us. The store had a familiar, hometown atmosphere.

While we were sitting there, an elderly lady (I'm guessing she was over 80) walked up to our table. Her hair was gray, and she wasn't too steady on her feet. She smiled at us.

I'm sure she didn't work there because she was still wearing her raincoat. But it would not have surprised me if she did.

The number of senior citizens working for that company was remarkable. When we in the past had come here, our boys would ask: “Why is Granny working?”

After they finished their ice cream and snacks, my wife went with the boys to browse the bookshelves. Moments later, the lady came closer, sighed and sat down across from me. “Good morning. How are you?” I asked. She didn't really respond.

I sensed she was no longer in the here and now. At a certain point, she looked up, and her eyes started to twinkle. She happily waved at someone.

“Oh look, there's my husband!” she said cheerfully, as though pleasantly surprised. For a moment she looked like a teenager who was dating for the first time.

I looked behind me and saw an elderly man approaching. He greeted me and gently asked the lady to come with him. “Come, lovely. Let's sit over there,” he told her, pointing to another table.

Then he came back and said: “I'm sorry. My wife has Alzheimer’s.” It brought me almost to tears.

I sat there and watched them as he ordered drinks and carefully divided a cupcake between the two of them. Perhaps, I thought, they do this every week. Maybe they have children. Maybe she was staring at us because all of a sudden she remembered how life used to be.

I didn't want to disturb them, but I also felt the need to express my feelings in some sort of way. So I bought some cookies and walked up to their table, then told them I wanted to share these cookies.

But I just couldn't find the right words at that moment. In fact, no words could have expressed what I really wanted to say.

The bookstore visit made me reflect on the circle of life, on family and how lucky I am to have something that makes family and health an envious reality.

Oh, how lucky I am.

Tony Antonides lives in Central Point.