When COVID Pushes You to the Edge and the Kindness of Strangers Brings You Back

My hair looked like it was combed with an egg beater. More precisely, it reminded me of a particularly poorly constructed robin’s nest under our deck, which was so badly put together that the babies kept falling out and crashing to the patio below. (We eventually constructed sides to hold the nest together, and momma bird learned to fly over the barrier and care for her remaining chicks.) However, I had a massage scheduled for 1:00 p.m. that usually included a scalp massage. I wore no makeup, a waste when you have to cover your face with a mask, and I was dressed in my COVID incarceration uniform—baggy sweats and a loose cotton top.

I decided to leave the house early, post some small valentine gifts I had made in my abundant spare time, and make a quick stop at the grocery store. It was there, while walking up the frozen food aisle, that I began to covet the idea of a cone of homemade ice cream. There were two ice cream parlors in the area, both serving pricey and delicious treats. Both were also very infrequent destinations, as I am always on a diet. One was on the way to my appointment, the other a mile in the wrong direction. I decided to stop at the nearest one. When I pulled into the parking lot, I observed several people coming out, laughing and talking. Oh good, it must be open. The temperature had climbed to 70 degrees, and it was almost ice cream weather.

Oh, no! When I reached the doors, they were locked. A sign proclaimed that winter hours were 2:00-5:00 p.m., Monday-Saturday. The sweet shop was connected by a small parking lot to an upscale grocer, that contained a café, and gift shop. I went there to look for ice cream in the freezers. The shelves held gallons of commercial brands, but nothing small.

I walked over to the café. “Can I help you?” the clerk asked, smiling. “Oh.” I said, not able to keep the desperation out of my voice. “I’m just so tired of being stuck inside. I only want a bit of ice cream, but the sweet shop is closed and you have nothing small in the freezer.” Her smile got wider. “I think I can help you with that. Just give me a second to find Jennifer. She has a key to the shop.”

We marched towards the side door where a young woman, presumably Jennifer, joined us. She walked me to the shop, unlocked the door, and met me at the counter. She began lifting the lids to all the cartons of ice cream and gelato. “Stop!” I said, alarmed by her effort when all I wanted was the smallest amount. “It’s okay,” she replied. “I’m opening up in an hour or so. Have you picked a flavor?” I wanted, craved, coconut chocolate almond. Because there was none, I chose chocolate swirl and watched her scoop out three large servings into a small cup. “I can’t eat all that!” I exclaimed.

“I know,” she said. “I’ll put back one scoop of this and give you a scoop of another flavor. What shall it be?” How doing that would reduce the amount, I could not fathom, but I shook my head in agreement and pointed to mint chocolate. Two scoops of mint chocolate went on top of the chocolate swirl. My stomach flopped over at the sight of all that lactose and sugar.  I reached for my wallet and the single $20 bill, since I was sure that this little treat would not be cheap.

I had the bill in one hand while reaching for the ice cream with my other. She was handing me the cup with one hand while raising her other hand like a stop sign. “No charge for you. Have a better day. Enjoy your treat,” she said as she came around the counter and began to walk towards the door.

“I have no one to share this good fortune with,” I said. “You need to share events like this.”

She smiled, opened the door for me, and locked it behind us. She headed across the parking lot to the store and I got in my car. The sun was shining, my car windows were open, and a warm breeze caressed my face. I ate every drop of ice cream. What I really savored, however, was the unexpected kindness of strangers. What a great day!

Published by Carole J. Garrison

I’m a conversationalist, an observer, a passionate participant in life. And now, in my later years, I’m a recorder of the lessons of my life through essays, stories, and novels. I live in the fourth moment of life, just outside the normal distribution of most people and it is from this place that I write.

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