Girl sparks friendship with lonely man at grocery store, helps him heal after losing wife

AUGUSTA, Ga. — Norah Wood, 4, just happened to say hello to 82-year-old Dan Petersen in a grocery store one afternoon. The two have been inseparable ever since.

“Something in her recognized something he needed,” mom Tara Wood told Hot Topics. “It’s magical.”

Little Norah was celebrating her fourth birthday on Sept. 28. After preschool, she and her mom stopped in at a grocery store near their Augusta, Georgia home to pick up some cupcakes.

Norah, riding in the shopping cart, spotted an elderly man, and before her mother could stop her, she stood up in the cart.

“She said, ‘Hi old person! It’s my birthday today!'” said Wood.

At first, Wood was embarrassed.

“He wasn’t warm and fuzzy looking at all,” said Wood. “But then, his expression softened. He asked, ‘How old are you today?'”

After chatting for a few seconds, they went their separate ways. Then, Norah suddenly decided she wanted to take a picture with the man.

They found him a few aisles down, and Wood asked for his permission to snap a picture.

“He said, ‘You want to take a photo with me?'” recalled Wood. “His face lit up. He looked like a completely different person.”

After snapping a few photos, Wood learned his named is Dan Petersen.

Norah thanked “Mr. Dan,” and his response brought Wood to tears.

“His little lip was quivering. He said, ‘Miss Norah, you made me the happiest I’ve been in a long time,'” recalled Wood.

That evening, Wood posted a photo of the encounter to her Facebook page.

Soon, a woman who knows Petersen personally reached out to her on social media to thank her for what her daughter did for Petersen.

“She said when his wife died back in March, he sunk into a depression,” said Wood. “She said, 'That’s the first time I’ve seen that man smile since his wife died.'”

Wood was able to get Petersen’s phone number and called him.

When Petersen picked up the phone, Wood said, “He just burst into tears. He said, ‘I haven’t stopped thinking about that little girl. She just inspired me.'”

Wood asked if she and Norah could pick him up for lunch that week.

“He said, ‘That would be wonderful,'” said Wood. “He asked if we could come to his house and see his greenhouse.”

When Wood arrived with Norah at his small ranch house, she almost didn’t recognize him.

“He cleaned up. He got a haircut. He shaved. He had on aftershave,” said Wood. “It was like he had Jennifer Lawrence coming to pick him up!”

Petersen chatted with Norah like they were old friends. He set out crayons and paper for her and asked her to draw him some pictures.

“He had been so lonely,” said Wood. “We covered 30 years of stuff. He was just ping-ponging around. He’s had a fascinating life. He’s had some tragedy in his life. He was just so grateful to have someone listen to him. The whole time, Norah was just curled up in his lap like she’s known him forever.”

Since then, Norah and her mom have been visiting Petersen regularly. Norah helped Petersen celebrate his 82nd birthday last week with balloons, cake and gifts.

“They’re so childlike. They get along so well,” said Petersen.

Sometimes, Norah and her mother will drop by unexpectedly, giving him a call when they’re on their way to his house.

“He’s always waiting at the door for us,” said Wood.

Wood said she’s touched that her daughter has befriended someone who needed love.

“I feel lucky to be the one to watch it happen,” said Wood. “It’s magical.”