Grocery shopping with young children is a nerve-shredding adventure. I have gotten good at racing through aisles, grabbing items off shelves without stopping. My philosophy is this: If I move fast enough, then my children cannot see and then throw tantrums for foods they do not know exist and that I will never buy.
So you could see why I may be particularly vulnerable to kind, smiling faces of understanding when I do stop long enough to rebuckle a parachuting toddler back into my buggy.
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Smiling faces like Lynette Britt’s at the Liberty Hy-vee. I know that if I make it to Aisle 10 with some food and all my children, she will greet me, in thick Carolina drawl that even six years of Midwestern winters can’t wear down: “Heeeyy, Honey-baby.” As if I am Miss America and she, my favorite aunt, hasn’t seen me in 10 years.
Some days, after miserable grocery trips where I forget most of my list and my children are wounding themselves underneath the buggy wheels, I want to hug Lynette.
She’s that good of a person. And she has a good story, too, thanks to us, Kansas City, and one anonymous person in Africa. I convinced her to tell it to me one day after her shift ended. It goes like this:
Lynette of Aisle 10 moved from North Carolina to Missouri in 2008, and quickly found her way to Hy-vee. She lives with her sister to free up money for her youngest son’s college education. That’s a good mama.
She immediately loved Missouri: “I like the people, like the town, don’t like the winters, but other than that, I’m good to go. Compared to where I’m from, everyone is more easy-going and friendly. And the way people have reached out to me, I’m like, what have I done to deserve all this?”
With an emphasis on
Lynette waves her hand in wild circles around her wide, open grin, which is clearly taking credit for her giddy confidence.
This time last year, a just-as-loving but quieter Lynette only smiled at customers with her eyes. Once I came through her aisle with tiny collard greens that were begging for ridicule. (“Stems and leaves, that’s what those are, baby. Now where I come from ....”) She roared with laughter. Her hand shot straight to her face to cover a mouthful of missing and decayed teeth. Her signature move.
Then, last fall, Rachelle Hochgraber, the nutritionist at the Liberty Hy-vee and the daughter Lynette never had, came to her with a proposition.
“I thought she was going to tell me to eat something or cook something. But she said she wanted to nominate me for a smile makeover. I never thought anything would come of that,” Lynette said.
She was wrong. Lynette naturally charmed Liberty dentist Michael Byars, who selected her from a large pool of applicants to be a finalist in his smile makeover contest. From there, word spread across the aisles of Hy-vee, into the Northland and out into cyberspace: Lynette Britt needs support for an internet campaign that would give her a new smile.
I heard about it on Facebook, from another of Lynette’s regulars, my elementary school librarian. (And that’s how community works, folks.) Before long, the buzz was all about Lynette.
“I don’t even have Facebook!” Lynette is still shocked. “This just started from everyone rolling together. I cried for the first three days. My sister would call me and tell me the things people had written about me, why they thought I should win — people I didn’t know from Adam’s cat.”
2,575. That’s how many votes Lynette brought in from across the country. One person even voted from a continent Lynette has never visited.
“You can thank my son for that one because that boy has friends in places Mama doesn’t even know about.”
Lynette won — of course she did — and immediately scheduled her first appointment. She needed bridges to replace missing teeth, crowns to protect what remained. Twenty-eight visits later, Lynette has a shiny new mouthful of teeth and knows the name of every member of Dr. Byars’ staff. She is now their favorite aunt, too.
“My son called and said, ‘Mama, I can tell in your voice you aren’t sitting there covering up your face, are you?’
” Lynette’s eyes get misty, but she smiles through it. “And I was like, no, son, I’m shining these babies all over town.”
Lynette is a completely different person now, making plans for a different version of life that might even include ... dating? (Dr. Byars let that one slip, Lynette.) And the rest of us? We get to sit back and marvel there are still good stories out there happening to good people, unexpected friends because they are there when we need them most. That’s how community grows, smile by smile.
So Lynette, take care of those teeth, tell your sister to stop begging for them when you die, and we’ll see you at Hy-vee.