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“How’s your mother?”

Photograph of James Moore by Kathi O’Leary


After my father died, my mother came out from Wisconsin for her first solo visit. We took in her favorite local spots — hunting for bargains in the thrift shops, lunching at Vivande, admiring the cats up for adoption at Pets Unlimited — then made a run through Mollie Stone’s to pick up the makings for soup.

Of course we had to go through the express line to say hello to James. He somehow intuited the fragility of her fresh widowhood, even before she burst into tears and told him my father had died.

“Let’s have coffee tomorrow morning,” he suggested.

The next morning, my mother was aflutter, worrying whether she had picked the right blouse and urging me to come along.

I stood firm: “No, mom, he asked you.”

And so she went.

She and James talked for nearly an hour before his shift began — about their lives and their histories, the weather here vs. there, the difficulties of raising kids. When she came home, she was something she hadn’t been in a while: almost happy again, with a spring back in her step.

To this day, many years later, when I come through the express line, James never fails to ask, “How’s your mother doing? Tell her I said hello.”

As for so many others, James’s gentle kindness left a lasting impression on my mom. We talk on the phone nearly every day, and she often asks, “How is James?” In her book, the express line at Mollie Stone’s holds more attraction than the Golden Gate Bridge.

Now 88, my mother sent a note when she learned that James was retiring. She wrote: “I will never forget that he bought me an early morning coffee one time — and I basked in his sunshine.

MORE: “Life in the express line