I love it when an old man calls me “baby.”
I know that when it happens, the man means no harm, no offense, that he is remembering, that he is, for just a moment, living another time when he was a mack daddy and he called all the girls “baby.” He might have, for a moment, been thinking of his daughters or granddaughters and let me have their term of endearment for a moment.
The man, whenever and wherever he is, could have been my grandfather, who called me that almost every day. My grandfather was a gruff, hard-working man who raised two families and never complained. He called me baby and he called every boy and man in our town “Charlie.”
I was as amazed that he did it as I was that everyone let him. No matter who he saw, he’d cry out, “Hey, Charlie!” And they’d always say, “Hey!” – whether it was Donald or Nathan or Bridgers or Derek or Tony or Nino or Winston.
The man on the scooter looked nothing like my grandfather, save skin like ebony and a wonderful smile.
I was walking, Desi, The Wonder Dog, when I saw the old man this evening. He was on a scooter with a basket in front and his cane in back. He was bowed over his lap. My heart stopped. Had he died while out for a ride? I called over, “Sir, are you all right?”
I called louder, “Sir, is everything OK?”
And he stirred as if from sleep, because that is what it was. He raised his head, still looking forward, never at me, and raised his thumb in the universal sign of “Everything’s all right.”
I smiled and continued our walk. But before I got to the corner, the old man was flying past, doing at least 5 miles per hour. He was totally awake, vibrant, the lost moment gone. He turned and waved, “Hey baby, how ya doing?”
And like that, he had turned the corner and headed down the street. I am a writer, not a photographer. By the time I realized that I should get a photo of him and fumbled with my Iphone to take it, he was gone.
It was the third time I’d been called baby by an old man this week, and every time, I thought of my grandfather. Those “baby’s” were gifts, and I didn’t mind at all.