After a challenging few weeks away from work, Christmas came a day early for Pauline Johnson, an apparently much-beloved cashier at Dash’s Market on Hertel Avenue in North Buffalo.
Concerned over Johnson’s extended absence this past fall, a few of her regular customers began inquiring about her well-being and learned she was recovering from a serious illness. That prompted longtime customers Cynthia Silverstein and Chrissy Murphy to begin taking up a collection among their Woodbridge Avenue neighbors to help defray some of Johnson’s medical costs. On Wednesday, accompanied by Murphy’s 13-year-old daughter, Maggie, they paid a visit to Johnson and gave her a check.
“This was a real surprise, a true blessing,” said Johnson, who is convalescing at the home of a friend.
“At first, when I looked at the check, I said, ‘Oh, it’s $100. Then I noticed there was another zero after the second zero.’”
Johnson, who is in her mid-60s, was diagnosed with breast cancer in September and underwent two surgeries soon after.
“This money is definitely paying for doctor bills,” Johnson said.
Although she has insurance, her medical co-payments are expensive: $250 for five days of radiation treatment and $50 co-payments for each visit with a medical specialist.
“This is a heavy load off my mind,” said Johnson.
As grateful as she is, Johnson also was touched by the unexpected generosity from people who are, after all, customers at her place of work.
“I’m very happy that I’m recognized, because sometimes you don’t think people recognize you. It’s touching to know so many people care about you,” Johnson said.
As unlikely as it may seem, Johnson and many of her customers have developed a caring bond over the 31 years she has been employed at the grocery store. It is, perhaps, even more remarkable considering that Johnson does not live in the North Buffalo neighborhood where she works.
“I’ve lived on the East Side on Fougeron Street for 41 years ... but I think more people on this side of town know me and recognize me,” Johnson said, as she sat among the bountiful Christmas decorations in her friend’s Colvin Avenue flat.
“This makes me feel good. The people on the North Side have been nice to me,” she added.
Silverstein said that bond has been nurtured in numerous passing conversations Johnson has shared with her customers in between price checks and bagging groceries. That is when she, over the years, had become informed of her customers’ trials and triumphs, and they sometimes learn of hers.
“She’s been there since my kids were preschoolers, and they’re 28 and 31 now,” said Silverstein.
“We’ve all been through her line numerous times. I think people feel so fondly about her. She’s a real character, and she notices all of us,” she added.
Silverstein even knew that Johnson’s birthday is on Christmas because it came up randomly in a passing conversation.
“I might not have remembered if it was May 14,” Silverstein said.
Thirteen-year-old Maggie Murphy, whom Johnson has known all her life, said she had extra incentive to remember it because she and Johnson share the same birthday and every year, she brings Johnson a gift.
“I guess the point of all this is to say that every day in your life, you know, you go in and out of the store while following all of your little routines that you do and you’re connected. We’re really connected. People just felt very concerned about her and wanted to help. I was so moved by that and so glad that people responded so whole-heartedly,” Silverstein said.