This morning we were setting out for a day's worth of adventure, and as we often do at the beginning of a dayventure, I ran into the bagel shop to pick up breakfast for the road.
Everything was not quite right. The bagellers seemed out of sync and the line was moving too slowly and then the substitute woman was running the cash register; I always think of her as the sub, anyway, even though she's full-time staff, too, because she'd only jump on if the manager was doing something else.
The manager, Steve, wasn't there. And then with a shock I read the sign next to the cash register.
There was his photo, and a note from the owners commemorating his death on behalf of the bagel shop community.
Steve was the kind of guy that made me feel grateful for our little slice of small-town living in the big, homogeneous DC suburbs. He always remembered us and always greeted us with a smile. When I lied each time to my girls, and told them that the gumball machine is for six-year-olds, he always confirmed that conspiratorially, and reminded them to be good for their mama. He smiled at their antics and hurried in front of me to hold open the door and understood why I asked for extra cups with extra lids and extra straws so that two girls could split one chocolate milk.
When L, as a toddler, threw her bagel on the floor in a pique of teething frustration, he hurried unbidden from behind the counter with a new one. No charge. And when L, as a two-year-old, bemoaned the sold-out blueberry bagels because I just want to eat the blueberries!, he introduced her to the marvel of blueberry muffins. No charge.
He didn't blink when I would ask for "an everything bagel, cut sideways in thirds instead of in half, the middle third left naked and wrapped separately for the baby, and the outer thirds spread (not too thickly) with plain cream cheese."
He obliged with a smile whenever I'd ask him to grab a handful of the fallen yummies from underneath the basket of everything bagels. He'd fill a takeout container for me.
He was just a guy I didn't really know that well, really, but he was a guy who always left me smiling, whose courtesy was unfailing and whose kindness rose far above customer service. He was a guy who was a truly pleasant part of our family's routines. I saw him last week. He looked fine. Naturally, he was smiling.
And on this Memorial Day, he was suddenly gone.
I don't know if he was a veteran. I don't know if he had a family. I know he was valued, and will be missed, and our little town has suffered a true loss.