November leaves 2022

The Perfect Sign on a Perfect Afternoon

It was the most excellent kind of November day: sunny and mid 70s.

I finished work early and decided to make the most of the weather by going out for a car wash and a grocery pickup. But first, a long drive. Driving my red Mustang convertible the long way on a gorgeous day to get to where I’m going–or even to no place in particular–is my favorite thing. (Okay, one of my favorite things.)

I thought about where my errands were and drove in the opposite direction, weaving my way through dappled sunshine along back roads that were lined with all the fall colors. I pulled over several times to take pictures and even double-backed twice, to catch things I missed the first time.

I haven’t had as much time to get out and drive this year, so it felt especially glorious in this moment, basking in the sunshine and singing along with my driving playlist. I stopped at a park and sat on a swing by the river for a while, watching the boats and listening to the kids playing on the playground behind me. It felt like the wild freedom of a summer day, delayed to autumn.

I went through the car wash (convertible top up, of course) and was in such a happy haze from the afternoon that by the time I drove away and noticed that my windshield still had a couple of those stubborn spots on it that had been missed by the guys who hand-dried my car, I didn’t care.

I masked up and went into the grocery store, something I very rarely do since the spring of 2020 when I discovered the joys of placing an online grocery order while sitting on my couch and picking up curbside. I used to love grocery shopping in the actual store–and I still do–but now it’s because it’s a rare treat that feels celebratory. Like, I can do this now, after so many months of having to stay away.

I pushed my cart out to my car, touching the car top to see if it was yet dry enough to take down for the drive home (it was), and loaded up the trunk with my groceries. As I started the engine and pressed the button to drop the top, I looked in my rear view mirror and noticed an older gentleman of around 70. He had thin, gray hair and glasses, and wore a green golf shirt with khaki pants. He was pushing his empty cart over to one of the store workers, who was clearing carts from the rack next to my car. I noticed as I was backing out that he was staying in the area after leaving his cart. He stared at my car.

I kept backing out slowly until he was right next to me. I smiled at him. He smiled back and said, “Don’t mind me; I’m just admiring your car. I LOVE IT.” And then he did a Vanna White-type gesture, motioning his arm alongside my car as I continued moving.

The way he said “I LOVE IT” was, to me in that moment, exactly how I remembered my dad saying that, light emphasis on “I” and heavy on “LOVEIT,” like he was speaking one word instead of two.

The thing about these little post-loss moments is that they can either thrill or crush. I can cry or I can laugh. Sometimes the reaction happens too quickly to control.

Sometimes, and those are the best times, I can make the choice to smile and feel warm inside, like my dad is right there. That’s how it was in the grocery store parking lot. That man looked nothing like my dad. His actual voice sounded nothing like my dad’s. But there was something about his tone, and I swear I saw a twinkle in his eye, that made me incredibly happy. It had been a perfect afternoon, and this was the perfect cap to it. I took it as a “hello” from my Dad, regardless of whether it really was: I’ll never know. Signs are there if you look for them and choose to believe in them, and I do.

I waved and replied to the man, “We love it, too. I hope you have a great evening!” He said, “You too, ma’am!” and then I headed for home.


  • Momo

    I LOVEIT. I’m glad you found warmth and a smile. I completely understand how you never know if that or tears will hit you first.

  • Jenn

    Those moments when you get those little winks from the ones we’ve lost mean so much. I also understand that instant where you don’t know- smile or tears? I’m glad it was a smile.

  • Katelynn

    Love this. I always love when I get these moments and know my mom is watching and just letting me know she’s checking in. I usually get a smell of her perfume or a random black cherry candle that she always burned.