We were the only family with children in the restaurant. I sat Erik in a highchair and noticed everyone was quietly sitting and talking. Suddenly, Erik squealed glee and said, "Hi." 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 quite bad. 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." Everyone in the restaurant noticed and looked at us and then at the man. 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 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. "Lord, just let me out of here before he speaks to me or Erik," I prayed. 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. Suddenly a very old smelly man and a very young baby consummated their love kinship. 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 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. ...
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