I never met Bill, or if I did it was only to say hello and to speed through the express lane at the Meadowbrook Stop & Shop. But then I only visit the supermarket when we’re running out of essentials and I rush in to buy ice cream.
Food shopping is a different matter for Carol. She scrutinizes the ads with the ardency of a treasure hunter, circling bargains no matter whether we’re in need of more onions, paper towels or canned string beans (Ollie gets those with his kibble). Carol frequents three markets – Stop & Shop, Sandy Lane Meat Market and Dave’s Marketplace at Hoxsie Four Corners – unless she happens to be at Garden City or the Cranston end of Warwick Avenue. Then, for sure, she won’t pass up Whole Foods or Shaw’s.
I first heard of Bill several months ago.
“A remarkable thing happened to me at Stop & Shop,” she said over dinner sometime last fall. She told the story of how she arrived at the checkout and the tally exceeded what she had in cash. She was a short and, immediately making a mental calculation, suggested leaving behind the dried milk.
Bill didn’t hesitate. He reached into his own pocket, pulling out the money. Carol protested. Bill insisted.
“Oh, you need your milk; you’re a growing girl,” she recalls him saying.
“How much was it?” I queried. Carol didn’t give me the specifics, but I had the feeling it was more than a couple of bucks.
The following day, Carol returned to Stop & Shop. She didn’t see Bill, but she left a card with some money for him with another checkout clerk. Everybody knew Bill and she assured he would get it.
On another sortie to Stop & Shop, she spotted Bill at the checkout and made sure to get in that line. She wasn’t alone and watched as he interacted with customers while adeptly swiping purchases over the scanner and placing them in bags. Carol turned to the shopper beside her, expressing her admiration of how he managed his job.
Others in line listened in. Almost, as if in chorus, they declared, “We love you, Bill.”
The Bill episode passed from mind until a couple of weeks ago, when Carol reminded me of it.
“I haven’t seen Bill for some time, so I started asking for him,” she said. It wasn’t long before she learned he had died. She wondered if he knew he had been ill, maybe even undergoing treatment, but nonetheless committed to being with people and a job he took pride in.
I was intrigued to learn more.
Who was Bill? What was his full name? Did he have a family? Where did he grow up?
I visited Stop & Shop Saturday and talked with Kelly deAgonia. She knew immediately of whom I was talking, Bill Trahan. She thought he had worked for Stop & Shop at various stores in the region for the past 20 years. Yes, he knew many customers. She knew nothing of him helping customers pay for their groceries.
When I got home, I did an online search for a William Trahan. I found an obituary for a William Trahan who lived in Cranston and died on Feb. 12 at the age of 77. The obituary named his daughter, son and five grandchildren. It said he enjoyed boating, Western movies and most of all being with his grandchildren. There wasn’t much more about him.
I showed Carol the photo, but she couldn’t be sure that was Bill.
I went back to the internet to see if I might be able to contact a member of the Trahan family to confirm this was the Bill who worked at Stop & Shop. Online, I found a name that matched that of his son-in-law in the obituary. What’s more, there was a phone number. Additionally, this person lived in East Providence, the location of the funeral home that handled the arrangements.
I called the number and left a voice message.
I wondered what to say, seeing I didn’t know if this was the right family and fearing they might think it was some weirdo looking to scam them and would never call back. I gave an abbreviated version of Carol’s story and left a couple of numbers to return the call. Sunday afternoon I received a text from his daughter, Missy, with a number to give her a call directly.
“I guess I have more to learn about my dad,” she said.
Missy said her father never spoke of helping out customers. This was new to her.
“He was very humble,” she added. She said he was a “very giving” man who volunteered to drive a family member to Boston’s Logan Airport to catch a flight. When a nephew was going through an unsettling phase of his life, Bill invited him into his house.
Missy had no idea that Bill had followers who made a point of checking out at his register even though, like Carol, they probably didn’t know his full name or anything about his life. They simply enjoyed being acknowledged and a familiar face.
Missy said her father’s death came suddenly. She said she talked with him on Dec. 28 and he told her that he had had chest pains while at work. Soon thereafter, he drove himself to the VA hospital and they ran a series of tests. A heart condition was quickly ruled out, but then came the shocking news. He had stage-four lung cancer.
I asked Missy about the photograph used in the obituary. She said the family didn’t know what to pick at the time and thought he would have approved of the one of him wearing sunglasses and looking like he was on a cruise. Perhaps he was on his beloved powerboat.
She volunteered to send me a more current photo, one from her brother’s wedding. Carol recognized him.
How could she forget Bill?