“We cannot tell the precise moment when friendship is formed. As in filling a vessel drop by drop, there is at last a drop which makes it run over; so in a series of kindnesses there is at last one which makes the heart run over.” ~Ray Bradbury
I have a weekly ritual of stopping by a small Vietnamese market close to our home. Thursday is delivery day for Lady Finger bananas, which are sweet little bananas from Mexico.
When I first frequented the shop, the small, dark-haired owner behind the counter would comment rather sternly, “Only bananas, that it!” She would weigh them and stretch out her hand, and I’d dutifully pay, hoping my small purchase would not continue to irritate her.
After a few months, I asked her name. “Maria,” she answered abruptly. I decided it best not to burden her with mine.
As the months continued, I always made sure I said, “Hi Maria!” and “Bye Maria!”
One day there was a younger man behind the counter, and since it was a family-owned business, I assumed it might be one of her sons. When I asked about where his mom might be, he explained she was taking a few days off.
As we started chatting, he shared how stressful the grocery business can be for her. “But I always tell her, Mom, you have to be nicer to the customers. You can’t yell at them!”
I decided to continue my quest to make friends with Maria. One day I brought her banana bread made with my little bananas. I handed the small loaf across the counter. She tilted her head and asked, “What this for?” I explained I just wanted to thank her for selling me so many bananas. I think she thanked me but maybe not.
One cold morning in December, she seemed unusually subdued. When I asked how her day was going, she answered quietly, “My eldest son die.”
I let her know how very sorry I was, and on my next visit I brought her a card and another loaf of bread. This time she thanked me with a hint of a smile.
I often felt she didn’t know what to do with my gestures of gratitude and concern, but as the months wore on, she no longer reprimanded me for only buying bananas. One day she made my purchase that much sweeter, when she asked, “Your name?” “Priscilla,” I answered proudly carrying my sack toward the door.
Winter passed and spring arrived bringing relief to our small Colorado town. As I approached the shop, a sign on the door read, “We will close early today and stay close over weekend.” Her younger son was behind the counter, and I politely asked why they were closing.
“My dad passed on yesterday.” Once again, I offered my condolences.
Soon Maria was back, looking thin and tired. As I handed her my bananas to weigh, I said how very sorry I was to hear about her husband. I pulled my credit card from my wallet and saw a green and white Starbucks gift card nestled behind it. I reached across the counter and offered Maria the small gift.
“Would you buy yourself a big cup of warm tea and know it is from me?” As I turned to leave, I heard her say quietly, “Wait.” She came around the counter and held out her arms for us to hug. We held each other close. After a few years I had made a new friend.
It’s amazing how a little kindness can open someone’s heart.
About Priscilla Dann-Courtney
Priscilla Dann-Courtney is a writer and clinical psychologist in Boulder, where she and her husband raised their three children. She has been in private practice for thirty years treating both adults and adolescents. Her areas of expertise include eating disorders, mood disorders, anxiety and stress management, addictions, grief and loss, life transitions, and relationship issues. Her columns have appeared nationally and her book, Room to Grow, Stories of Life and Family was her way to navigate the light, dark, and wonder of life.
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