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A Nurse’s Angelic Encounter in the Department Store

Memories of her home and work life swirled around in the housewares aisle. But who was the mysterious woman that unexpectedly appeared?

Illustration by Charles Chaisson

Candle holders, picture frames and other knick knacks surrounded me in the housewares department. While my husband and I waited for construction to be finished on our new house, I enjoyed browsing for decorating ideas. A figurine on one of the shelves grabbed my attention, and I picked it up. It was beautiful, made of cast bronze. A woman danced with a young girl, their faces caught in a moment of pure joy, their skirts in motion, the girl looking up adoringly at what could only be her mother.

Memories flooded in. I remembered my daughter, Laura, my son, Glenn, and me, dancing around the living room, still in our pajamas. I was a nurse, which meant long shifts at the hospital, so I cherished these moments with my children. “Having so fun,” as Laura used to say.

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I could see both of my kids now—Glenn bouncing to the record player as Laura spun round and round. Time had passed in the blink of an eye. Now my husband and I were moving out of the house they’d grown up in. Laura had children of her own and worked as an interior designer. Glenn worked in graphic design.

Right in the middle of housewares, I’d been sent on a trip down memory lane by a figurine. I had to buy it, and knew just where I’d put it in the new house. On the fireplace mantle in the living room. Only one thing could make my purchase more perfect: if this figurine were part of a set, the other piece of a mother dancing with her son. It was possible I’d find one.

Determined, I searched the entire housewares department. I carefully scanned every shelf. There was no companion figurine anywhere, nor a salesperson to help me.

Maybe the cashier will know, I thought, cradling my find. I turned to head to the registers. As I stood in the checkout line, I spotted an older African-American woman, dressed in a tailored pantsuit, walking toward me. She walked quickly and with purpose, like a woman on a mission.

She immediately reminded me of one of the nurses who’d been a mentor to me in the early years of my nursing career. Her name was Mallie Glenn. She was a private duty special nurse who often worked on the same unit as me. I would never forget her. I could not have been the devoted nurse and mother I was without her support, so much so that I named Glenn in her honor.

I stepped aside, so the woman could get past. But when she abruptly stopped in front of me, I saw that she was holding a figure similar to mine. Without saying a word, she held it out to me. It was a woman dancing with a little boy.

I accepted her offering, too astonished to ask the questions roiling in my mind. Did the woman work here? How did she know just what I was looking for? Where did she find it? Before I could gather myself enough even to say thank you, the woman strode down an aisle and out of sight. Just like Nurse Glenn going on to her next task.

WhileI paid for the two figurines at the register, I described the mysterious woman to the cashier. “Does she work here?” I asked.

The cashier frowned. “I don’t know who you could be talking about,” she told me. “I’m the only salesperson working in this department today.”

Before I left the store, I took another look around for the woman who’d sent me back to happy memories of my children and my wonderful nursing mentor. The only proof I have of the encounter sits on my mantle. A gift from an angel.

For more angelic stories, subscribe to Angels on Earth magazine.

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