One Question that Started a Ripple (Guest Writer)

By: Margery Hamrick Walters

Hmmmmm….a pedicure--that sounded great. After all, it had been a very long week at work and it was Friday--I work full time for crying out loud!! Don’t I deserve a little pampering? I might have had one other pedicure in my whole life--not my usual “go to” for relaxation. My recently-married daughter and her friends had raved about this nail place and advised me to "ask for Anna. She’s AMAZING!!” (And, yes, my daughter does talk in multiple exclamation points!!)

So, there I was- -long day at work, check. Friday, check. Ready for a relaxing foot soak, foot rub, and toe nail painting, check.    

“May I help you?”

“Yes, I’d like to get a pedicure and Anna was recommended to me.”  

“ANNA!!!” the woman at the front desk called loudly and added some other instructions after that in a language I did not understand.

Slowly, quietly, a pretty, young-looking woman came out from the back room.  

Oh, this must be Anna.  

This young woman pointed at a pedicure chair and said “sit."  She pointed to my shoes and said “take off." Then she started filling the basin with soothing hot water.  She showed me some nail polish colors and said, “pick.”

Wow. So many colors. I said “which color do you like?” Anna looked puzzled.  I said “you pick.” Anna said “me pick?”  


She chose a very bright shade of red. A very bold red. I’m really not a red polish kind of person so I grabbed a light pink bottle and said “what about this?”  

Anna shook her head, looked me in the eye and said “Me pick.”  

Okay. Decision made. I looked at the bottom of the bottle: “I’m not really a waitress." Loved that.

Then I settled back in my chair as Anna pointed to my feet. I lifted them while she carefully directed each foot into the warm water. Oh. My. Word. The back of the chair stated vibrating. It began massaging my shoulders, my back, and the backs of my thighs. I leaned back. I could really get into this! I could feel tension draining out of my body. Why don’t I do this more often?

I looked at the top of Anna’s head as she diligently and thoughtfully got all of the “stuff” ready for what was going to be an hour-long and, I could tell, wonderful, process. Something about her made me smile. Admittedly, I love meeting new people and I can be overly chatty when I meet them (or so my daughters told me during their brutally honest teen-aged years). It seemed like Anna knew little English and I certainly didn’t want to make her uncomfortable….maybe I should just close my mouth, sit back, and relax??  

Well, I couldn’t just sit back and relax. Something drew me to this young woman. She seemed so serious about her job. I started watching how she cared about each part of what she was doing. And I started thinking. “Wait a minute. Is her name really Anna? That seems kind of weird.”  Then I started listening to the women giving the pedicures and manicures in the place. They were speaking to each other in another language. My husband and I had visited Cambodia a few years back and their communication reminded me of what we heard there.

I took a minute and really SAW Anna. I wanted to get to know her, ask her about herself. And  if I was honest, I wanted to know if her real name was Anna.

“Thank you so much, Anna,” I said, “And Is that really your name? I want to call you by what you would like to be called.”

Anna continued to look down and was silent for what seemed like a very long time.


A very, very long time. Maybe I should ask the question a different way.

I tapped her shoulder and pointed to her and said, “Is Anna your name?”  

Again, no comment. Quiet. Silence. Crickets.

Then I noticed something. There was a tear slipping down her cheek. Oh my goodness. She’s crying. “Are you okay?” I asked. She looked up at me, pointed to herself, and said “Name. Chanh Thu.”

We looked at each other and I realized that by simply asking her name, I had touched something deep in this person I had just met. I said “What a beautiful name. May I call you that since that is who you are?” Chanh Thu nodded her head “yes." I practiced saying her name until I got it right--sounds like Shon Too.

Little did I know that I was making a friend. I was actually giving birth to a new daughter. Chanh Thu and I started a very choppy conversation with many hand motions. We started understanding each other. I smiled. I laughed. She smiled and laughed. And oh--what a beautiful laugh! Chanh Thu smiles with her whole face and laughs from somewhere way down deep. I asked questions, made hand gestures, tried to understand what Chanh Thu was saying. She talked, made hand gestures and tried to understand what I was saying. We connected! I gave her my phone number and told her I would love to visit with her again.

Our next visit came sooner than I thought it would. Just a few hours later, Chanh Thu called me on her way home from work and asked, “where you live?  I come you how (your house).”

So Chanh Thu came into my home and my heart. When she came into my house that very first evening, she asked, “what I call you?” Then she announced, “I call you Mom!!” We laughed and she gave me my first sniff kiss. If you don’t know what that is, look it up.

My husband heard the commotion and came out of his office to see what was going on. Chanh Thu said, “What I call him? I call him Dad.” We laughed and sat on the couch (Chanh Thu likes to sit as close as possible)- and from that moment on I wanted to learn more about her and her life.

A new world had been opened to me. And it all began because I had asked one question. One question. And I took a little time to really SEE her.

I have since learned that Chanh Thu is Cambodian, but she grew up in Vietnam.  She said she is Khmer Krom. Even though I have visited Cambodia, I have never heard of the Khmer Krom people group. She has told me about being raised Buddhist and that her mother takes food to monks who live next to her home in Vietnam. Chanh Thu talks about picking and selling mangoes in Vietnam.  I learned that she is now married and has a step-daughter. At the time I met her, Chanh Thu had lived in the Chicago area for one year, living with her husband, his daughter and his parents. Chanh Thu works long days in the salon and then shops, cooks, cleans, and helps care for her mother-in-law. Her busy and isolated life makes mine look rather soft by comparison.  

We have had many good, cozy talks--always starting with a sniff kiss, a “Hello, Mom! Where’s Dad?” and ending in a whole lot of laughter and hugging. Chanh Thu has made hundreds of egg rolls in our home, squatting on the floor of our kitchen while grating everything for the recipe. (I quickly introduced her to our food processor after I grated my first head of cabbage the old fashioned way!) She has brought me new foods to try. She has shown me pictures of her family and has even video called her mother so her mother and I could look at each other and smile--our only way to communicate!!

I try to learn some of her language (Chanh Thu speaks Khmer, Vietnamese and is learning lots of English). We try and understand each other.

Chanh Thu and I have talked about her citizenship process and when I quiz her on the 100 possible questions for the test, she knows 100% of the answers (answers to questions I don’t think I remember learning in school!). Chanh Thu has talked about her Buddhist beliefs and I have talked about my belief and trust in Jesus. I pray for Chanh Thu. What a privilege to pray for Chanh Thu. And to know that God communicates with her perfectly.

We are different culturally and we don’t understand everything about each other. She asks, “Mom, why don’t your children live with you?” “Mom, why you not live with your mother and take care of her?”  \“Mom, you not cook every day?” “Mom, you getting old. Why you still work all day?”

Chanh Thu hugs a lot, laughs a lot (even though I have had the privilege of seeing her cry about hard things she is going through), is generous and loves calling our daughters her sisters and my mother her Nanee. She is a hard worker, is curious, and likes to travel within areas she feels comfortable. It is hard for her take a compliment. And she is good at so many things.

We love each other. We are like family.

One question. And SEEING her. That’s what it took to have another world opened to me. And to learn about the sniff kiss. Don’t forget about that.

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