225. Cliffhanger

Okay, if it wasn’t for a mysterious red-haired bearded stranger, I probably wouldn’t be writing this blob.  

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.  

In the kiddie seat of the grocery cart, was Gretchen, age 3, and Baby Neil.  Elizabeth, age 5, was helping Mommy with the shopping. 

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.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

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6 Responses to 225. Cliffhanger

  1. A relative says:

    Gretchen Warden Stark Happy Birthday to you. You are one of a kind! You are amazing in so many ways. You are beautiful and smart and funny. That man really saved the day when he set you down so gently in the cart. Remember when we decided he must have been an angel when he disappeared into thin air before I could properly thank him? Love you.
    Mother (Susy)

  2. Elizabeth says:

    Gretchen is such a beautiful person inside and out! I love you so much, Gretch! The slideshow made me cry–lots of great memories! Setting up elaborate Barbie scenes in our bedroom, talking at night in the bunk beds, kicking slippers and going to European countries, fighting over who had to clean up the bedroom, dancing to Tina Turner and Werewolves of London and Michael Jackson and Quincy Jones (music influenced by Big Lisa, naturally!), building rockets and cars out of refrigerator boxes, throwing nincompoop and snacks, putting on shows for family members with fancy costumes, chasing the Mister T ball around the house, picking up Neil’s cars when he dropped them off the porch, so many fun birthday parties (like your kitty party!), slumber parties in the trailer in our driveway, Emily’s dance performances at Meany Hall, searching for fruit instead of candy on Easter, and so much more. I can’t remember a time in my life without you in it, Gretchen, and I’m so grateful and lucky to have you as my sister! You are so loving, thoughtful, responsible, sweet, fun, smart, and insightful. Have a fantastic birthday, and welcome to your 30s! It’s a fun decade! I hope you have a birthday cake with LOTS of frosting to make up for those years when we had frosting-less cakes! 🙂 Love you so much!

  3. Gretchen Covey says:

    Happy Birthday Gretchen,

    I didn’t know about your shopping cart experience! Yikes! I’m convinced that the man that caught you was an angel. How grateful we are that he saved your life! Thank you God! What a gift you are to the world.

    Peace, grace and courage are words that come to mind when I think of you. Your mere presence brings peace into a room. You give grace to others allowing them to be themselves. You courageously deal with life’s circumstances no matter how scary or difficult. You have deep faith and love that equips you for whatever comes.

    I’m so honored that we share the same name. I love our name. I love it more because I share it with you. You are a very dear person to me.

    I love you.

  4. Gretchen says:

    Wow Grandma thank you so much for this amazing birthday blog! I laughed and cried thinking about all of the fun memories through the years. I feel so blessed to be a part of this family, it is full of so many wonderful, loving people. Thank you Grandma for being such an incredible person to look up to, you inspire me when I am in tough situations because I have never seen you give up or quit, I have only seen you persevere and work harder to achieve your goals. I admire, respect, and love you so much!

    Big Gretchen it is an honor to share the same name as you! You are an amazing example for me of someone living their faith to the fullest! I appreciate your support and encouragement through the years, you have been such a fabulous role model for me!!

    Elizabeth, I am so lucky to have you as a sister! You are so well-educated, successful, and accomplished in addition to being one of the most beautiful and generous people I know. We are so fortunate to have had such a fun childhood! I love remembering trips to Peaches with Grandma and Grandpa, pudding pops, Albas, and so much more.

    Thank you too Mother, Susy, for your nice birthday wishes! You have been such an amazing parent to all of us Warden kids. We are so lucky to have you and Daddy as our parents. I hope if Joe and I decide to start a family we can be just like the two of you.

    Thank you all for making me feel so loved on my birthday, this was the best gift I could ever get!! I love you!

  5. Linda Lewis says:

    Happy Birthday, Gretchen. Fun to read everyone’s comments. Your pictures are great, but you are even a more beautiful in person, as was said, inside and out!

  6. Gail Trevathan says:

    Tom and I want to wish you a very Happy Birthday. We can still remember when you were very little and did not want to walk down the isle at our wedding. Elizabeth took you by the hand and patiently helped you carry the basket of flowers. You have grown to be a beautiful, kind, caring woman. We are so very proud of you and can’t begin to put into words how much we love you.

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