Today, my granddaughter Gretchen Marie (Warden) Stark is celebrating her 30th birthday, and it’s entirely possible that all the birthdays she’s had since she was three years old might be attributed to the intercession of that mystery man.
On the day of the incident, my daughter Susy had just done the shopping at the Family Grocery in Duvall, Washington where they lived at the time.
They checked-out the groceries, and Susy and Elizabeth wheeled the cart back to the car. When they got there, Susy aimed the grocery cart into the car so it wouldn’t roll, and lifted Neil out. Gretchen waited in the kiddie seat while Susy carried Neil around the car, opened the back door, put him in his car seat and proceeded to strap him in.
It was then, she heard the sound a parent never wants to hear – the sound of the grocery cart, with its three-year old passenger, proceeding to roll down an incline. The cart fearsomely increased speed as it travelled toward a curb which preceded the drop to a rockery and a highway in peak-hour traffic.
Susy bolted around the car and dashed after the cart. Terrified and desperate, she could see that her race to stop it was going to be futile. But just as the front wheels of the cart went over the curb, suddenly a stranger appeared out of the blue. He caught the cart in mid-air with Gretchen still in it, and then set it down on the ground. It was unbelievable.
Susy burst into tears of relief. She was too shaken to ask the man who he was. She hopes she found the composure to thank him, but, by then, little Gretchen was crying, too. It wasn’t the near-death experience that scared her — it was the big man with all the curly red hair and the long red beard.
Susy told me that she wished she knew who the rescuer was so she could have sent him a note expressing her thanks. Personally, I don’t think it was necessary. Guardian angels probably chalk it up as all in a day’s work.
In Matthew 18:10, Jesus says of children: “See that you do not look down on one of these little ones. For I tell you that their angels in heaven always see the face of my Father in heaven”.
In the years since, the almost-victim has grown into something of a rescuing angel herself. There is no challenge too complicated or harrowing for somebody whose inner standard seems to be “Can Do!”. I don’t think the word “defeat” is included in her lexicon. And she’s never been afraid of cliffs, then or now.
She successfully survived the care and feeding of Barbie dolls, pets of various sizes and shapes, Drill team, grade school at Phantom Lake Elementary in Bellevue, Washington, middle and high school at Bellevue’s outstanding International School, the University of Washington for her bachelor’s degree, and is now studying at the online Capella University for her Master’s in psychology (and loving it). As a surprise to no one, she’s a 4.0 student.
She and Joe Stark got married in August of 2008 and they’re living happily ever after in a charming town house which they share with their three dogs. Now hear this: Joe works for Costco. Obviously, Gretchen still hasn’t acquired a fear of grocery carts.
Besides hitting the books, Gretchen works part-time for Ford Video and also helps give care to her Grandma Bonnie.
I wish Gretchen had been here tonight. I spent hours looking for some video clips of her that I wanted to show you. Just when I had a couple ready to edit, the computer system seized up on a “Segmentation fault”. My choices were to reload the software, wait for the red-haired bearded man to rescue me, or give up and go to bed. There’s always tomorrow.
Gretchen wouldn’t have taken the easy way out, though. She had early training in dealing with “cliffhangers”.
Happy Birthday, Gretchen. Try to stay away from runaway grocery carts. Enjoy the slideshow.