I worked as a barista for a long time. Being located in a prime downtown spot in the middle of a medium-sized city meant that I interacted with a lot of people over the years. There were hundreds of customers that I interacted with on a regular basis, and hundreds more that simply passed through. I had a lot of “favorite customers” throughout my barista career. There was the super hot soccer player who I legit wanted to marry, there was the guy who worked on a political campaign that I disagreed with but we had great banter, there was the lovely family with two golden retrievers, there was the grouchy old man who became like an uncle to me—and I could go on and on forever.
I haven’t worked at the coffee shop for 2.5 years now, but there are some people you meet who will stay in a treasured part of your mind forever. This couple I knew inspired me to be a better person–to love deeper, and more honestly, and with more passion than I ever thought was necessary. Their names were Ann and Baird.
Ann and Baird were very, very old. Some of my coworkers claimed they were like 99 and 100, and though I don’t actually think they were centenarians, they were definitely in their late 80s at the youngest. Ann and Baird came into my store about three times a week. The two resided in a lovely “old folks home” right around the corner, making it extremely easy for them to take a stroll and come sit in the store for a bit at their leisure.
Baird had a walker, so Ann would order their coffees while Baird took a seat at a corner table. Ann would order their drinks and I would always walk them out to their table not only because I didn’t think Ann should carry two little coffees, but because I loved the chance to chat with them while they were in the store. Ann was the most hilarious woman I had ever talked to. Baird was quiet, either because he never had any idea who I was or because he was just that type. Ann would always make jokes with me, either asking me about boyfriends, or cracking a joke about her husband.
I once asked her how they had made their marriage work for as long as it had and she quipped, “Easy! He doesn’t talk!” One time, Ann told me that smiling was something that was nice, but not necessary. And the best day of my life was when Ann nudged Baird and said, “Look honey, the pretty one is bringing us our coffee today.”
We got word that Baird fell. He and Ann hadn’t been into the store in awhile which was obviously very worrisome at their age. Their daughter came in one day and we asked about her parents. She let us know that her father had fallen and broken his hip, a hard thing to recover from at his age. He was still at the hospital and he would be for awhile. I wanted to visit but there is a fine line with a barista-customer relationship. No one realizes how much of an impact you and your customers can have on one another–no one thinks to inform the person that makes your coffee when something goes wrong. Ann came in about three weeks later. She was alone. I didn’t think I was emotionally capable of talking to her about her husband’s condition but I made myself channel my inner Ann and be bold. She ordered her cup of coffee (a short black drip) and I asked her how she was doing. She sighed, and said she hadn’t been away from her husband for this long ever in her life. I tried not to cry but it wasn’t going well. I certainly didn’t think Ann would want to stay and sit in their spot without Baird so I rushed from around the counter to open the front door for her. She stopped, looked me in the eye, and said, “Honey, I’m not leaving yet. I’m going to sit in our spot.
I laughed and apologized and walked her over to the table.
She looked up at me again and said, “I mean, I’m going to cry, but I’m going to sit her anyway.” My eyes welled up with tears and I kid you not, Ann began to laugh. She squeezed my arm and said, “Oh, I’m just kidding. I won’t cry! I just need to enjoy my coffee.”
Well I cried because somebody had to do it!
That was the last time I saw Ann. I transferred stores when I temporarily moved to my hometown and when I came back nine months later, Ann and Baird had both passed away. The first question I asked my manager when I came back was how they were. She teared up and told me that she wasn’t sure, but that she had an idea that they weren’t around anymore. I got confirmation later after searching through obituaries for a long time. I never even knew their last name, but you just don’t meet many Bairds these days.
I loved Ann and Baird. They were a real life Allie and Noah. I think of them every time I think of what I believe true love looks like. I hope that I have a sense of humor like Ann when I am her age. I hope that I love my husband enough to make fun of him when we are 90. I hope that I am able to touch the life of a 23-year-old barista, even without realizing I have done so.
To Ann and Baird, the customers who meant so much more than a cup of coffee to me. I miss you constantly.
[Featured image via.]