When Tara Wood saw her daughter talking to an elderly stranger at the grocery store, she was confused but not worried. The 4-year-old had a habit of talking to anyone and everyone she came across. But then she heard exactly what her daughter had said — and that’s when she started to panic.
Tara is a stay-at-home mom who describes herself as “a writer, mother of seven vibrant, decent-looking children, and wife of one long-suffering, exceptionally handsome man. Her talents include cursing, polishing off large burritos, making friends with old people, and always remembering her next Xanax dose.” And we don’t blame her — her lifestyle would drive anyone else crazy. Especially with kids who are a handful… like 4-year-old Norah.
Norah is a sweet little girl who loves pink and hates hair accessories. She is also very talkative and extroverted, often wanting to make conversation with strangers. This can be very endearing, but it can also spell trouble. When your child has no filter, who’s to say when she’s going to offend someone on the street? Tara had a taste of that one day with a neighbor’s employee.
Tara and Norah were walking in their neighborhood when they spotted some tree service being done in their neighbor’s yard. One of the employees sported a man bun. Clearly curious about this hairstyle, Norah asked him, “You is wearing a bun in your hair?” The man replied, “Yeah, I sure am.” Then, to Tara’s horror, Norah asked the man if he was a ballerina. Thankfully, the man took it with humor. But it was only a matter of time before someone didn’t respond so well to Norah’s indelicate inquiries — especially because the little girl also has a dark side.
Like any other child her age, Norah is prone to tantrums — which she expresses by throwing herself on the floor. Like the time she plopped herself down behind the front door of her house because her mother was “unable to make the Earth snow.” All toddlers go through this stage, but Norah’s extroversion made Tara worry she’d one day blow up with strangers. This concern crossed her mind on Norah’s birthday, of all days.
The day before Norah’s birthday, she and Tara came across an elderly person walking slowly across a parking lot. That’s when Norah revealed to her mother her interesting thoughts about senior citizens. “They walk slow like I walk slow and they has soft skin like I has soft skin. They all gonna die soon so I’m gonna love ‘em all up before they is died.” Sure, she meant well, but Tara wondered how an elderly person would take those words. And she didn’t have to wonder for too long.
On the day of Norah’s birthday, they were on the way home from school when Norah asked Tara to stop by the grocery store. She wanted to buy cupcakes to celebrate her birthday with her siblings. Tara had already had a long, busy day, and all she wanted was to go home. But, as she put it, “How do you say ‘no’ to a birthday girl?” They headed to the store, not knowing what they were about to encounter.
“I popped Norah and her younger sister in one of those enormous and cumbersome grocery carts shaped like a car, and headed toward the bakery,” Tara remembers. “After we picked up the cupcakes, I stopped at a clearance shelf that caught my eye.” While she was busy rummaging through for useful items on discount, Norah was already trying to make friends with strangers. Then she said something that made Tara’s heart sink.
“Hi, old person! It’s my birthday today!” Tara heard Norah exclaim. Alarmed, Tara turned around to find that Norah was talking to an elderly man, who was “stone-faced and furrow-browed.” Tara was at a loss for words. “Before I could ‘shush’ her for calling him an ‘old person’ or ask the Earth to swallow me whole, he stopped and turned to her.” Tara braced for the worst.
“Well, hello little lady! And how old are you today?” the man replied, to Tara’s complete surprise. “If he was troubled by my no-filter-having child, he didn’t show it,” she wrote. Oblivious to the panic that had just gone through her mother’s head, Norah chatted with the man for a few minutes. Then he wished her happy birthday and went a separate way. But the encounter had been more impactful to Norah than Tara realized.
“We found the man a couple of aisles over and I approached him. ‘Excuse me, sir? This is Norah, and she’d like to know if you’d take a photo with her for her birthday? His expression rapidly morphed from confused to stunned to delighted.” Can you even imagine what he must have been thinking? He was not a celebrity, why would anyone want to take a photo with him?
“He took a step back, steadied himself on his shopping cart, and placed his free hand on his chest. ‘A photo? With me?’ he asked.‘Yes, sir, for my birthday!’ Norah pleaded. “And so he did. I pulled out my iPhone and they posed together. She placed her soft hand on top of his soft hand. He wordlessly stared at her with twinkling eyes as she kept his hand in hers and studied his skinny veins and weathered knuckles.” Then Tara realized what Norah had really meant when she talked about her love of old people.
“She kissed the top of his hand and then placed it on her cheek,” Tara wrote. “He beamed. I asked his name, and he told us to call him ‘Dan.’ We were blocking other shoppers and they didn’t care. There was magic happening in the grocery store that day and we could all feel it. Norah and Mr. Dan sure didn’t notice they were chatting away like long lost friends. After a few minutes, I thanked Mr. Dan for taking the time to spend a bit of his day with us.” His answer filled Tara’s heart with warmth.
“He teared up and said, ‘No, thank YOU. This has been the best day I’ve had in a long time. You’ve made me so happy, Miss Norah.’” Tara continued. “They hugged again and we walked away. Norah watched him until he was out of view. I’d be lying to you if I told you I wasn’t a weepy mess after their encounter. I was blown away by this meeting and thought maybe some of the readers on my Facebook page might enjoy hearing about it. I posted the story and a photo of the two of them.” And to say people responded would be an understatement.
More than 8,000 people reacted to her post, and later that night, Tara received a message from a reader who recognized Mr. Dan. His wife, Mary, had passed away in March, leaving him alone and lonely. “She wanted to let me know that she was certain his heart was touched by my little girl — that he needed it and it likely would never forget it.” Tara decided to get back in touch with Mr. Dan.
“We made a visit to Mr. Dan’s cozy and tidy house — reminders of Mary still proudly displayed everywhere you look. He had gotten a haircut, shaved, and was wearing slacks and dress shoes. He looked ten years younger,” Tara said. “He’d set out a child’s table, blank paper, and crayons out for Norah. He asked if she’d draw some pictures for him to display on his refrigerator. She happily agreed and went right to work.” The friendship blossomed more than Tara could have ever imagined.
“We ended up spending nearly three hours with Mr. Dan that day,” she continued. “He was patient and kind with my talkative, constantly moving girl. He wiped ketchup off of her cheek and let her finish his chicken nuggets. As we walked him to his front door after lunch, he pulled out a pocket knife and cut the single red rose blooming by his porch. He spent ten minutes cutting every thorn off of the stem before handing it to his new friend. She keeps that rose, now dry as a bone, in a Ziploc bag under her pillow.” Tara’s amazement at her daughter’s love for Mr. Dan continued to grow.
“Norah asks about Mr. Dan every day. She worries about him. She wonders if he’s lonely, or cold, or has cheese for his sandwiches. She wants him to be okay. She wants him to feel loved,” Wood said. “Mr. Dan thinks about Norah, too. After another recent visit, he relayed that he hadn’t had an uninterrupted night’s sleep since his wife died. He told me that he has slept soundly every night since meeting my girl.’‘Norah has healed me,’ he said. That left me speechless and my cheeks wet with tears.” And she’s not the only one…
“Seventy-eight years separate, these two people in age. Somehow, their hearts and souls seem to recognize each other from long ago,” she said. “Norah and I have made a promise to see Mr. Dan every week — even if it’s only for fifteen minutes, even if only for a quick hug and to drop off a cheese danish (his favorite!) I’ve invited him to spend Thanksgiving with us. He’s part of our family now. Whether he likes it or not, he’s been absorbed into my family of nine and just like Norah said, ‘We’re gonna love him all up.’” And it seems like this relationship isn’t going anywhere for the foreseeable future.
They do still see each other every week and even have a Facebook page where they share photos of their visits, delighting thousands with each post. As for Tara, she’s not sure what made Norah pick Mr. Dan out of everyone in the store that day. “I can only assume there was some divine intervention or stars aligning or she was nudged by the universe. I know we’re all better because of it, though,” said Tara. As for Mr. Dan, he summed up his new friend well. “If I didn’t have anything else to do the rest of my life,” he said, “I have her to love.”