It’s slow work but worth the wait. His speckled hand pulls the lever. Tiny shards spray from a frozen brick and gradually fill a styrofoam cup.
Mr. A turns toward the open window and shouts in a New Orleans drawl, “What flava’d you say you wan agin?” He squints, cups both hands around his hearing aids to amplify the voice of the nine year-old on tip-toes at the counter.
“Pina colada with cream, please.”
“Ah, thas right,” he laughs at himself. “Always dah pina colada wid cream fah dah lil one. Always.”
He pulls the jar of pale yellow syrup from the rack and pours liberally, turning to smile at us periodically with eyebrows raised as if to say “How do you like dat?”
A year ago, Mr. A’s trailer showed up in a nearby parking lot on a warm Spring afternoon. Conversation is hard, slow. One question per visit. Repeated two or three times. The answer dissected on the drive home as we take turns guessing at what was actually said, translating from cajun to English by vote: where he moved here from, how he came to make snow cones in retirement, his wife’s name.
“OK, who thinks her name is Sandra?”
Hands are raised and we test our consensus on the next visit.
“How is Sandra feeling this week?” I ask.
He thanks us for our concern and the kids exhale – there are congratulatory fist bumps.
Weeks of questions, answers, and guesses before we heard about Sandra. And for weeks afterward a story unfolded of a man who married his best friend, a long-awaited retirement together cut short by a cancer diagnoses. Mr. A and Sandra moved to Nashville hoping to receive experimental treatment at Vanderbilt. We promised to pray, wrote down our number in case he needed anything.
Then the leaves turned yellow, the trailer stopped coming, but Gabriella kept praying. Every night. “God please heal Sandra, get her into that experimental treatment place.”
A few days ago Mr. A’s trailer reappeared and, though it wasn’t hot enough for snow cones, we bought some anyway.
“We’ve been waiting six months for this,” I say.
“What flava’d ya wan agin?”
In time a shaking hand slides a generous cup of ice and sugar through the window. I’m afraid to ask…
“Evra day since we closed da shop, I been wid er at dah hospital.”
Sandra did get into Vanderbilt’s program and there was progress but the latest scans revealed three new tumors in her head. “Jess keepin’ ‘er comf’table now.”
The kids are teary-eyed and tight-lipped on the ride home.
“This is compassion,” I finally say.
There are major drawbacks to being my child. The thirteen year-old sighs. Knowing I’ll say it if someone else doesn’t, she recites from memory: “Compassion is suffering with people who suffer.”
“But at least we get lots of snow cones,” says the nine year-old.
There is that. Over a hundred snow cones we figured out – to turn a stranger into someone we suffer with.
Please pray for Mr. A and his wife Sandra. And, honestly, I’m at a loss for what more my family and I can do to show our love for these two. So if you have any ideas? Please share in the comments of this post. Thanks.