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Part 1 - Conversation With An 86-Year-Old

Part 1 - Conversation With An 86-Year-Old

Hello and good day!

Yesterday I ran across a fellow sitting on a black metal bench outside one of our shops. He had a bag full of goodies that he purchased from us, and he was enjoying a chocolate soft serve. He seemed so contented that I felt compelled to walk over and ask him why he was so happy.

"I sold my business a few months ago. I have all the money I need for the rest of my life and now I get to do what I want with my time. What I wanted to do today was come and visit you all and eat this cold treat and just sit here and take my time and enjoy it," he said.

I shook his hand and gave him a pat on the shoulder. "I'm honored that we are your destination of choice. Thank you, my friend," I said.

"If you ever decide to take on investors, I want to buy some shares. You've got something good going. I know that you could take these shops all over the country," he said.

"You're probably right, but then I wouldn't be able to see you out here on this bench. I'd probably be looking at excel spreadsheets and sitting in a boardroom and that would ruin the whole thing for me. Listen, when you're done, go in and get a free refill on me. I'll let the young lady inside know," I said. I went in and told the young lady working the counter about the free refill.

I said goodbye to my friend one last time and gave him another handshake.

Then I grabbed my sign and started working my beat in the shopping center. Back and forth I walked with my sign that says, "Soft Serve At Fortunato Chocolate". I smiled and waved at passersby.

Unfortunately, I've been sick for the last couple of weeks and the symptoms are lingering. I'm not recuperating as fast as I'd like. In the past, I would have powered through and maybe even doubled down on my effort to show what a tough guy I am. But now, with kids, and a wife, and a few extra years on me, I'm trying to be a bit wiser about things. I was hacking and blowing my nose every 30 seconds while walking around with the sign and it wasn't a good look.

Instead, I sat down with my sign on a bench in a high traffic area and waved it at people as they walked by. Off my feet, the symptoms died down and I felt better.

Not long after I sat, an older couple came sauntering by. The husband had a good, erect, posture to go along with his full, impressive, head of grey hair, parted on the side and swiped over, glasses, and a neatly trimmed grey mustache. The wife was thin and hunched a little in the shoulders. She had grey hair dyed brown and was walking slower than her husband.

They were holding hands.

When the fellow saw my sign, he stopped to speak with me. "You work for the chocolate shop?" he asked.

"I do. I'm one of the owners, along with my dad and my brother," I said. "Well, I'm pleased to meet you. We just had a free hot chocolate and we loved it. Thank you so much for doing that," he said.

"It's our pleasure. They're always free. Come by anytime," I said.

"If I lived around here, I would. But we live out in Auburn. We just came to file a complaint with one of the shops in this center," he said.

"You did? What happened?" I asked.

Now the wife chimed in. "I bought a pair of walking sticks online to use when we go on our long walks. I left them out in front of the clubhouse in our senior community and somebody walked away with them," she said.

"Do you think they did it on purpose?" I asked.

"There's no way to know," said the husband.

"There's security in the community and we don't see too many strangers coming in. A neighbor was probably confused and took them by accident," said the wife.

Now the husband sat down and left his thin wife standing. "Say, how'd you get in the chocolate business?" he asked.

I told him a summarized version of our story about how we were distributing mining equipment in Peru. And how the mine's cafeteria wanted to buy fruits and vegetables. And how my dad and brother went to the jungle to look at bananas. And how they stumbled across a thought to be extinct variety of cacao. And how we were selling chocolate to high end restaurants and chocolatiers in more than 30 countries for 12 years until COVID broke out.

And how restaurants were shut down and we almost went out of business but then we started selling online and our wonderful online customers saved our business. And how selling direct, online, led to opening up shops.

He listened intently, but I could see that his poor wife was tiring from standing in one spot and also that she wanted to say something.

"I'm sorry for doing all the talking," I said. "It looks like you might want to say something to your husband." "We need to replace the walking sticks before the store closes at 5pm," she said.

"Go ahead and do it," said the husband. "I want to stay here and talk to this gentleman a little longer." "I'm not sure what to do," said the wife. "Just tell them what happened and tell them that you're wondering if they'll replace our stolen items," said the husband.

This sounded like a long shot to me.

"Go ahead. It'll be alright," said the husband. "It's good for you to go alone. It's good for your independence," he said. She gave him a very unsure look, but then nodded and shuffled off.

"Believe me, it's good for her," he said.

I didn't want to do all the talking, so I beat him to the punch.

"Where are y'all from? Are you originally from around here?" I asked.

"Bawl-mer. Originally from Bawl-mer. That's Baltimore to people who aren't from there, but we call it Bawl-mer. I went to Cornell and then studied law at Yale. Great school, Yale law. I wish I would have worked harder though. Young people never value good opportunities," he said.

I nodded and didn't say anything. I had a feeling that if I just sat there and listened, this man might tell me his entire life story and I wanted to hear it.

People walked by and I waved the sign at them, and they smiled and gave me a thumbs up. The sign worked by the way. We had a great day in the shop.

"I'm 86 years old and I've been married to my wife for 62 years," he said. "I met her in law school, and I've been with her ever since." "My dad didn't approve of us getting married though. I still remember that. Of course, my dad didn't approve of much I did."

I'm running out of space for today.

More to come tomorrow.

Thank you so much for your time today.

I hope that you have a truly blessed day!