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Stranger gifts bring message shifts

We took our toddler to Disneyland when she was nearly three. The week after Thanksgiving, we headed for Anaheim, California, for a week of cartoony pre-Christmas fun. With her plush Mickey Mouse toy in tow, our energetic youngster bounced onto the plane for the trip home. We tried to keep up, while toting a folding Umbrella Stroller, a Booster Seat, and our carry-ons. 

Her antics drew attention in the aisle.

After about an hour in the air, our little one was quite restless. Two sodas, three tiny bags of pretzels, and four trips to the bathroom were not enough. So I took her by the hand, and we went for a stroll up and down the aisle of the plane.

Although I had schooled her repeatedly about stranger-danger, my garrulous girl began chatting up the other passengers. One elderly couple seemed particularly friendly. They began asking her about her pets, favorite foods, most-loved television show, and other details.

“Who did you see at Disney?” Bob asked.

As my little one began rattling off the contents of her Disney Autograph Book, Bob interrupted gently. “Donald Duck is my favorite,” he said.

Within minutes, they were fast friends. The two strangers introduced themselves as Toni and Bob.

“I sure would love to see more of my own grandchildren,” Toni said, grinning at our daughter.

Watch out for weird wonders.

When the aircraft landed, Toni and Bob stayed behind, as the rest of the passengers climbed off the plane. We were waiting our turn as well, since we had so much preschool paraphernalia to tote.

When the crowd thinned out, Toni asked us for our home address. She said she had something special at home, and she wanted to send it for our little girl.

“Lord knows, my own kids don’t need nothing,” she said. I’m pretty sure she rolled her eyes at that point.

At that point, Bob reached inside his briefcase and produced a tiny box. Inside was a little toy ring, like the kind one might find in a Gumball Machine at the grocery store.

I turned to her father and shrugged. These folks seemed safe. He handed Bob his business card and suggested they send their parcel to his office.

We headed for the baggage claim, where we retrieved our luggage and loaded up the car.

Duck! Here come mailings galore.

Less than a week later, a package arrived at the office, addressed to our little girl. A bulging shirt box contained a strange collection of items: a tiny Rag Doll, a Plush Puppy, a rubber-banded bunch of Tootsie Pops, and about seven pieces of Costume Jewelry.

This parcel was followed by weekly shipments of stuff. Comic Books, Candy Bars, Playing Cards, and even Bubble Gum Cigars arrived.

Finally, it stopped in an unexpected manner.

I was determined to make this a teachable moment. Although my daughter could not yet read and write, I decided we would compose a Thank-You Note to Toni and Bob and politely ask them to cease and desist from sending any more items our way.

Gathering pen and paper, along with the return address (clipped from one of their parcels), I sat on the sofa with my daughter in my lap. The morning newspaper was next to me, and it happened to be opened to the obituaries. Something familiar stuck me, as I glanced at the paper.

There, just above the fold, was Toni. Apparently, she had battled cancer for over a year and finally succumbed.

Our thank-you letter then became a sympathy note to Bob, who was not listed among Toni’s surviving family members. Instead, he was mentioned further down, as her “longtime friend.” It seemed the two had never married.

Airline passengers –
Pixabay public domain photo

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