It was a Saturday, and I was out for the afternoon with my teenage son, Daniel, and my precious 5-month-old baby, Jett. We decided to stop at an Aldi store, but not our usual one.
As I parked the car, I noticed an elderly lady parked beside us. She had a distinctive look—she was in her early 80s, with long, graceful grey hair, elegantly plaited and pinned up. She looked familiar, and although I hadn't seen her for over 30 years, she looked like Andrew's mum.
I unclipped Jett from his car seat, and we started walking towards the shop, holding my baby boy in my arms. The elderly lady, with her eyes bright with kindness, approached us and said, "You have such a beautiful baby." Grateful for her compliment, I smiled, "Thank you. Can I ask you a question? Are you Andrew's mum?" She softly confirmed, "Yes, I am. How do you know Andrew? Are you from the Salvation Army?"
I took a moment to collect my thoughts and replied, "No, I'm not from the Salvation Army. I used to look after Andrew during recess and lunch when I was in year 1 and year 2. At the end of the school year, you gave me a lovely card with a soap and a washer, one of those floral washers crocheted around the edge, as a thank you."
Tears welled up in her eyes as she spoke, "I remember you. I remember asking if you could sit with Andrew for recess and lunch. You were there with him every day, making sure he ate and stayed with you. It meant the world to me. Andrew is Autistic and nonverbal, and as a child he had no fear." She said, "I worried every day when I dropped him off at school because there were no proper fences, and the school was by the highway. Thank you for being there for my son. It meant more to me than you will ever know."
We stood together at the entrance to Aldi, tears streaming down both our faces. I reached out and gave her a comforting hug, feeling the weight of the moment. I glanced at Daniel, my teenage son, and saw him looking somewhat bewildered but respectful of the emotional encounter.
For me, this was a magical moment of realisation about my impact on my friend Andrew and his mum during those early years. I hadn't known back then that Andrew was Autistic and nonverbal, but our friendship had transcended words. He always had a smile on his face and brought joy to my recess and lunchtimes; we had a unique and special friendship.
Continuing our conversation, I asked her how Andrew was doing these days. She shared that she had taken him on two world trips, and he was enjoying his life.
That chance encounter at the entrance to Aldi brought back cherished memories of my childhood friendship with Andrew and reminded me of the importance of compassion and inclusivity. I was so happy he had travelled and was enjoying life. Little did I know that the precious bundle I held in my arms, baby Jett, would embark on a similar journey as an Autistic child, making me all the more grateful for the lessons learned from my dear friend Andrew.
Our day out became a heartwarming reunion and reflection on the impact of small acts of kindness and friendship.
Thirteen years on, and my son Jett is now a teenager. He continually progresses; he loves creating animation, travelling, and spending time with family, and friends.
I can't help but wonder about Andrew's current circumstances, I also wonder if he remembers me and if we will have the opportunity to meet again.
If you would like to read Part 1 of this story, here is the link