New Bedford Couple Thankful for Holiday Stranger
New Bedford Korean War-era Navy veteran Edwin Robert "Bap" Baptiste married up when Shirley Prescott Baptiste agreed to become his bride and lifelong companion 65 years ago. Just ask him, he'll tell you it is so.
Shirley will be 91 in January and Bap turns 90 on New Year's Day, and the couple still adores each other and are rarely without each other's company.
Shirley, a cancer survivor, also survived a heart attack several years ago. Bap, who recently broke his arm in a fall, underwent heart bypass surgery some years back. The couple is resilient, though, and seems to have more energy than a pair of Energizer bunnies. Maybe it's all of the years they danced and struggled together.
Life was never easy for Shirley and Bap, but they made the most of it and, they were appreciative for what little they had.
Shirley and Bap lost their only child, Steven Michael, to HIV/AIDS 25 years ago this month. Stevie was a hemophiliac who at times suffered miserably. Their devotion to him was unmeasurable. For nearly 40 years, he was their life. Making life bearable for him seemed to be their purpose for being.
Shirley and Bap helped raise the neighborhood. Nieces, nephews, neighborhood kids all ate, slept, and gathered at Shirley and Bap's house. When her brother was unable to care for a young son, Shirley and Bap took the child in and raised him.
Bap, a graduate of the old New Bedford Vocational High School, worked as a welder at a local plant that manufactured clothes driers. Shirley spent years at the register at Bob and Eileen's Super Variety Store at County and Weld Streets. Eileen was her baby sister.
When Shirley could no longer manage the stairs to the apartment she and Bap shared on the second floor of Bob and Eileen Antil's tenement house, Bob, now a widower, invited them and their dog to move in with him on the first floor.
Shirley still feeds all who come to her door, and there are plenty. Now grandnieces and grandnephews fill the small apartment and are happy to share in a meal prepared by Shirley and company. Though slower than before, she still cooks and shops with Bap by her side.
Last week, while stocking up at the King's Highway Stop & Shop for the anticipated holiday weekend visitors, Shirley and Bap were stunned to learn that their $150 grocery bill had been paid by a young man who wished to remain anonymous. Shirley and Bap have worked hard for everything they have and are not accustomed to having things done for them. They graciously accepted the stranger's generosity.
Shirley and Bap have lived a hard-knock life but don't try to tell them that. After 65 years together, their honeymoon continues. They can no longer dance, but they are happy to still be together, laughing and enjoying life.
God knows they taught this commentator a thing or two about dealing with adversity while keeping your head held high. You see, Shirley is my late mother's kid sister. She and Bap are godparents to my youngest, Steven Michael. Shirley and Bap, my aunt and uncle, are among the most generous people I know.
Karma has a way of seeking out and rewarding those who are deserving.
Barry Richard is the host of The Barry Richard Show on 1420 WBSM New Bedford. He can be heard weekdays from noon to 3 p.m. Contact him at email@example.com and follow him on Twitter @BarryJRichard58. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author.