A Divine Sign When Paying It Forward

Her friend gifted her a trip to the salon. Decades later she paid it forward — and got a heartwarming surprise.

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Pay it forward, act of kindness, surprising end

It was a promise I’d made back in 1971. To repay an act of kindness with a trip to the salon. At the time, my husband, Joe, was a pilot in New York. We’d bought a house in New Jersey, not too far away. I had my hands full raising two children under the age of five. Then the airline cut costs. Joe was laid off. He took any odd job he could find, from painting houses to pumping gas. I got a job teaching at an elementary school. But we struggled to make ends meet. We put ourselves on a budget.

One of the first expenses to go? Trips to the salon to maintain my short hairdo.

One Sunday, a friend from church named Bette Barnes approached me after service. “Annette, may I ask you a question?” she said. “You usually keep your hair short. Are you growing it out?”

I shook my head. “Salon visits just don’t fit our family’s budget these days,” I said.

A week later, a gift card to my favorite salon showed up in the mail. I called Bette. “It’s nothing,” she said. “Just pay it forward one day.”

I said I would. But life got busy. Joe got a new job. And, in 1980, we moved to Kansas City, Missouri. The promise to pass the gift forward stuck with me, but it wasn’t as if I could just go up to a stranger on the street and say, “You’re looking a bit disheveled—I bet you could use a haircut!”

Forty-six years passed since my gift. Then I got a call from Bette’s son. Bette had passed away. I knew what I had to do to honor her memory. A woman at church was making some sacrifices to help out her granddaughter financially. Like me, all those years ago, she’d cut out visits to the salon. Her name was Bette Ballinger. I pulled her aside at church one day. The words rushed out: “Back in the ’70s, I knew another Bette—Bette Barnes....” I told her the whole story, then asked, “Will you accept a free trip to the salon?”

“Of course, I will,” she said, her eyes wide. “But, Annette, don’t you know my maiden name?”I was stumped. “It’s Barnes,” she said. “I’m Bette Barnes!”

Here are 10 random acts of kindness you can do today!

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