It happened several summers ago.
I walked into the small sandwich shop to pick up a late lunch. A young man was sitting alone quietly enjoying his lunch while speaking on his cell phone. He was sitting in the corner of the empty sandwich shop facing the door. With a quick glance at the young man, the oil and grime on his denim work shirt made me believe he was a hard-working mechanic on his lunch break from a nearby automotive shop.
When I walked in he looked up, saw me, stopped his cell phone conversation, put down his half-eaten sandwich, stood up and said, “I can’t believe it’s you.” I turned to see if anyone else had walked in. I wasn’t quite sure what he meant but the sincere smile on his face made me totally comfortable.
“It’s him. It’s the guy that writes for The Californian. I swear he is here right now,” he said into his cell phone. I was positive he had confused me with Herb Benham. I wasn’t sure how that was possible since Herb is much more fit, has more grey hair and is much older than I.
The young man came up to me and without introducing himself, handed me his cell phone and asked if I would say hello to his fiancé.
“She won’t believe Steve Flores is really here,” he explained. Whew…at least he hadn’t mistaken me for Herb.
I embarrassingly said a quick hello and offered my best wishes to her on their upcoming wedding and handed the cell phone back to the young man. He thanked me and returned to his corner table to finish his half-eaten sandwich.
I’m grateful and humbled but always a little surprised on the rare occasion when I am recognized in public.
What made me recall this sandwich shop encounter? Several readers approached me at a Guadalupe Church social event last weekend.
“I was wondering why you took so long to write about losing your wife,” one reader explained.
My wife, Susie, died from cancer almost five years ago. It took me two years after her death to muster the courage to share the total emotional devastation to me and my children. The pain never goes away. You just work through it.
“Sharing my feelings in my column took time. It was one of the ways I am still working through it,” I explained to the inquisitive reader.
“I feel like I know your family better than my own,” another shared. I remember 13 years ago when I was first approached by Editor Olivia Garcia to write for The Bakersfield Californian. I asked what was it she wanted me to write. She responded with, “What do you know best?” I said, “My family.” Olivia said, “Perfect.”
I went home and explained to Susie, daughters Nikki, Brenna and twin sons Sean and Aaron about the writing offer from the newspaper. I wanted to make sure they understood that they, their cousins, tios and tias, friends and the rest of our robust Wavehog family would be the topic of the majority of my columns. Both in family tragedies and celebrations, our lives were indeed shared with you.
“Your dad would be very proud of you,” said an elderly man who had known my dad from their shared Marine Corps service. His comment totally caught me off-guard. I must be honest with you. This heartfelt statement choked me up the most. I am an easy crier. When Eric Forrester took back his cheating two-timing wife Quinn on The Bold and Beautiful … I cried. Eric is such a good man. He deserves better.
But I held back in the Guadalupe Church Hall.
My apologies for reminiscing, but that Saturday night I was forced to be reminded of how many years I have been blessed to share my family with you. And to be blessed with readers like you who find interest in my large and growing family.
And to that mechanic in the sandwich shop and his fiancé, I pray your marriage is still abundantly fruitful and as happy as was mine.
See, I am already starting to cry.