Gelato Mama Shares Her Love for Target Employee Barbara Karls

A familiar face at a routine place.

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  • Written by
    Emily Tecklenberg
  • Photographed by
    Monica Orozco

To know her is to love her.

With her bright red hair accessorized with headbands that correspond with her red top—and maybe just a dash of lipstick abandoned on her teeth—she exudes a warmth that is hard to ignore. She kindly rings up your purchases, making the occasional comment on your goods, complimenting your choice of earrings.

She might ask about your mom or your kids or inquire if the sun is shining. You ask her how she is doing, and she is always doing just fine—keeping busy with two jobs, never a complaint, never a frown, never even a fluster when dealing with not-so-patient customers.

She finishes up by coming around for a hug and a promise from you to come back and see her soon, proclaiming that you just made her day. She waves goodbye then turns to greet the next customer, showcasing that smile. As you exit the store, your heart feels a little bit better, a little bit lighter—simply by her company.

She is Barbara Karls: devoted Target employee and friend to any person who crosses her path. Her favorite part of the job is the customers, of course, who have become like family.

When asked, she could not think of one part of her job she dislikes. I wanted to protest, insisting there must be something  that displeases her; I mean does she even realize that some people don’t return their carts? But try as I might, even I cannot imagine a scenario where Barbara would become upset by such silly things. Sometimes I feel the need to be upset for her.

Perhaps a disgruntled customer behind me is displaying her impatience as my pleasantries with Barbara take too long for her liking. I want to turn to said customer and tell her to go away; you don’t deserve Barbara. But instead I say nothing, get my hug and then watch as she greets that customer just as warmly as she does everyone.

So often we find ourselves both the victim and the assailant of bad behavior in this world of fierce divide as we rush through our days. But then we stumble upon Barbara, who quietly reminds us that kindness should be our religion and intolerance is simply a waste of energy.

Recently Barbara was diagnosed with Stage II breast cancer. I received this information while I was visiting my family in another state, and we all sighed. “Not Barbara,” my mother said. We paused in our day to reflect on this news, and it did not elude me how Barbara’s spirit is so infectious that it crossed state lines. Barbara, you don’t know this, but I’ve been writing about you for years, just little tidbits here and there on social media about how much I adore you. I’ve always maintained two things: one, if you don’t get a hug from Barbara at Target, you’re not doing life right, and two, the world needs more Barbaras. But I think I’ve changed my mind on the latter, as I’m not quite sure we could ever find another you. What this world actually needs is just a little more of you in each of us.