She was found sitting in front of the grocery store on 44th Street near downtown. It was getting dark and she was cold, afraid and crying. Dressed in her traditional Catholic school uniform, she had a red scarf wrapped around her neck and ears with her curly dark hair hanging down her back.
Mr. Spinelli, the long time neighborhood grocer, found her when he turned on the front security light. She had not been there earlier when he put up the store closed sign.
“Well, hello, little girl,” he said. “Did you knock? Are you lost?”
“I didn’t think anyone would hear me, Mister. I saw your sign,” she said through her sobbing. “I’ve been here before. I can’t find my mom and the neighbors aren’t home. I didn’t know anywhere else to go.”
Mr. Spinelli ushered her into the warm store and called upstairs for his wife to come down from their residence.
Mrs. Spinelli, a portly, cheerful fifty-something woman, quickly appeared. “Let’s see, your name is Monica,” she said with a smile. “We talked when you were here last week.”
Monica nodded in agreement and then poured out her heart and soul. She and her mom moved here when her parents divorced. Mom worked long and hard hours but sometimes it wasn’t enough. Her dad wasn’t helping.
At this point, Mrs. Spinelli, with a lump in her throat, told her, “Let’s not worry about all that right now, Monica. Let’s get you warm and have something to eat. We’ll find your mom.”
Monica replied, “Thank you, you’re nice.”
As they headed up the stairs, Monica smelled the wonderful lasagna. The aroma of the baking meat, cheese and tomato concoction cheered her immediately. It was cozy and inviting.
Monica told them her last name was Rodriguez and that she lived nearby. They didn’t have a phone. Her emergency contact was their neighbor, Mrs. Castro. She gave Mrs. Spinelli the number.
Calling but receiving a recording, Mrs. Spinelli left an urgent message. She would call again after dinner.
Later, sitting down to dinner, the Spinellis noticed Monica beginning to relax. There was something about the warm home and a good meal that worked magic for the girl.
It was also magical for the Spinellis. They had lost their only son in the Iraq war and their only contact with young people was in the store. They found Monica to be an innocent, precious nine year old who was smart and polite. They enjoyed her company.
Suddenly the doorbell rang. Monica rushed downstairs with Mr. Spinelli. They found Mrs. Rodriguez at the door looking embarrassed and concerned.
Mrs. Rodriguez was very polite but the Spinellis could tell her life was rough. She was pretty although gaunt and looked exhausted. Her face was beginning to show worry lines even though she was quite young, probably in her late twenties.
“I’m sorry I bothered you,” she said. “My boss said I couldn’t leave until I had the typing finished. I was worried sick when Mrs. Castro called me. I hurried right here.”
She told them how hard it was as a single parent and that she worried about Monica being left alone. Her neighbor, Mrs. Castro, was usually home but sometimes she left without notice to help her elderly mother. She had no other back-up for Monica after school if she was late.
“I don’t know what I’m going to do,” she said. “I can’t afford to lose this job and the overtime helps.”
Mrs. Spinelli looked at her husband and said, “Tell you what. On days when Mrs. Castro won’t be there, use the store as a back-up place. We’re always here. Monica will be safe and I will enjoy the company.”
Mrs. Rodriguez was speechless but with tears of happiness she hugged Mrs. Spinelli.
Then Mr. Spinelli surprised himself saying, “She can even help me lock up and close the store. I can probably throw in a few groceries.”
Mrs. Spinelli was shocked. Her husband was noted for being very frugal, but the little girl just captured his heart.
She then smiled and said, “Ok, everybody, back to the table. Sit down and join us, you look like you need a break.”
And from this sudden beginning, young Monica became a part-time fixture with the Spinellis. Later, she even worked part-time at the store while attending high school. She graduated with highest honors.
From little beginnings come great things, even in a grocery store. God’s plan is always working.
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