We were the only family with children in the restaurant. I sat Erik in a high chair and noticed everyone was quietly eating and talking. Suddenly, Erik squealed with glee and said, “Hi there.” He pounded his fat baby hands on the high chair tray. His eyes were crinkled in laughter and his mouth was bared in a toothless grin, as he wriggled and giggled with merriment.
I looked around and saw the source of his merriment. It was a man whose pants were baggy with a zipper at half-mast and his toes poked out of would-be shoes. His shirt was dirty and his hair was uncombed and unwashed. His whiskers were too short to be called a beard and his nose was so varicose it looked like a road map.
We were too far from him to smell, but I was sure he smelled. His hands waved and flapped on loose wrists… “Hi there, baby; Hi there, big boy. I see ya, buster,” the man said to Erik.
My husband and I exchanged looks, “What do we do?”
Erik continued to laugh and answer, “Hi, hi there.”
Everyone in the restaurant noticed and looked at us and then at them and the old geezer was creating a nuisance with my beautiful baby.
Our meal came and the man began shouting from across the room, “Do ya patty cake? Do you know peek-a-boo? Hey, look, he knows peek-a-boo.”
Nobody thought the old man was cute. He was obviously drunk. My husband and I were embarrassed. We ate in silence; all except for Erik, who was running through his repertoire for the admiring skid-row bum, who in turn, reciprocated with his cute comments.
We finally got through the meal and headed for the door. My husband went to pay the check and told me to meet him in the parking lot. The old man sat poised between me and the door. “Just let me out of here before he speaks to me or Erik,” I pleaded silently to no one in particular.
As I drew closer to the man, I turned my back trying to sidestep him and avoid any air he might be breathing. As I did, Erik leaned over my arm, reaching with both arms in a baby’s “pick-me-up” position. Before I could stop him, Erik had propelled himself from my arms to the man’s arms.
Suddenly a very old smelly man and a very young baby consummated their love relationship. Erik in an act of total trust, love, and submission laid his tiny head upon the man’s ragged shoulder. The man’s eyes closed, and I saw tears hover beneath his lashes. His aged hands full of grime, pain, and hard labor, cradled my baby’s bottom and stroked his back. No two beings have ever loved so deeply for so short a time.
I stood, awestruck. The old man rocked and cradled Erik in his arms and his eyes opened and set squarely on mine. He said in a firm commanding voice, “You take care of this baby.”
Somehow I managed, “I will,” from a throat that contained a stone.
He pried Erik from his chest unwillingly, longingly, as though he were in pain I received my baby, and the man said, “Bless you, ma’am, you’ve made my day.” I said nothing more than a muttered thanks.
With Erik in my arms, I ran for the car. My husband was wondering why I was crying and holding Erik so tightly. I had just witnessed human kindness shown through the innocence of a tiny child. A child who just saw an old lonely man, a child who made no judgment; a child who saw a person, rather than dirty clothes like his mother.
We don’t know what in their lives made the homelessness fall into hopeless destitution and starvation. So who are we to judge, and how much does it really take to show a bit of kindness.