“From the heart it has come, to the heart it shall go.”
—Beethoven’s inscription on his Mass
It’s our thing. Our routine. On most Sundays, after church service, my husband and I have lunch at the New China Buffet in Forest Lake. It feels as though we’re eating with family—minus the sibling quarrels and parental guilt trips. It’s the kind of place where they greet you warmly, give consideration to the weather, and then ask, “Two hot teas?” Yes, please!
Oddly, only recently I commented to my husband that I hadn’t seen the female owner, Joyce Chen, for a long time. “Perhaps she is visiting family in China,” I said. I am aware that she makes a concerted effort to go home from time to time despite running a busy restaurant with her husband and two children. And then, as though I had mentally conjured her, Joyce appeared from the kitchen. We made eye contact, smiled, and waved at each other.
Joyce walked over to the cash register and then brought me a red gift bag. “Here,” she said, indicating I was to open it.
“Where have you been?” I asked. “It seems like months since you’ve been at the restaurant.”
“I went to my parent’s home in China. I left in October and returned on Christmas Eve.” She once again motioned for me to open the gift.
To say I was confused is an understatement. Why would Joyce be giving me a gift? Sure, my husband and I are regular visitors to their buffet. And yes, we’ve forged something of a relationship. And yet our conversations with Joyce or her family tend to be light—we discuss the weather, our kids, holiday plans—the type of pleasantries that are comfortable and yet not overly revealing. Joyce speaks English well, but there are a few translation glitches that make deeper conversations tricky.
I picked up the gift bag noticing it said something about Shanghai. Inside, nestled in tissue paper was a box. I gazed up at her with curiosity. Finally, bursting with impatience, she said, “It’s a scarf.”
I opened the box and what I saw was stunning. “Oh, Joyce! I love it. And, I love you for giving me this generous gift.” We hugged.
“I tried to pick out colors that you might like,” she said. The scarf, soft as angel’s skin, glowed with shades of red, pink, yellow, green, and blue.
“I’m going to put it on right now.” And I did. Joyce watched me carefully.
“Do you like it? It looks pretty on you.”
“I love it! I’m so touched that you would think of me.”
She shrugged. “You sometimes come in wearing pretty scarves, so I bought you one.”
Whaaaaaat? My head was spinning. Joyce travels to China to visit family and then takes the time to buy me, me—a random customer—a lovely scarf? What the heck? I felt so honored and extraordinary. Joyce looked at my husband. “I didn’t get you anything.”
He laughed and said that was quite okay.
Joyce scooted into our booth and showed us photos on her iPhone. We saw images of her hometown and of seafood she enjoyed while in China. She also showed us video snippets of the mall she shopped at with its dancing water features and flashes of fire. I conjured a vision of a Chinese version of Las Vegas. It was fun to learn more about Joyce, her family, and her roots.
As my husband and I drove home, I continued to grasp for some understanding of her kindness and gift. Why me? I then remembered a couple of other moments when she gave me presents. There was the time she handed me a pear that was close to perfection as a pear can be. Yellow flesh tinged with a pink rouge blush. Firm and juicy. “For you,” Joyce quietly said. “It’s pretty.”
Another time she brought me a sample of a new dessert they were trying out. “I want to know if you like it. “ It was warm, sweet, and a little complicated. Not unlike Joyce.
I have no idea why I am the recipient of her good will. I do know every time I wear the scar I will think of her and her act of generosity.
Usually, I am the one ambushing women with silk scarves, but today I became the ambushed. It was incredible. Thank you, Joyce. You have started out my 2017 in an unforgettable way.
If you would like a chance to win one of my hand-dyed silk scarves, please sign up! I give one away every month.