by Stephen Mollins
In 1984, I was a single father raising three children alone. Money was tight. We were on our way home from our annual two-week camping trip in Vermont. I had an old Chevy, loaded with camping gear: some tied to the roof, the trunk full to the top of the open lid.
We’d just crested a large hill when I felt the right rear tire go flat. I felt clever for having the foresight to tie the spare tire to the top of the trunk… until I removed the spare and remembered the jack was still at the bottom of the trunk. I cursed my stupidity and prepared to unload the trunk.
Across the street was an old farmhouse in serious disrepair: plastic covered all the windows, it hadn’t seen paint in years, the roof sagged, and the barn looked worse. Perched on an old rail fence was a boy of about eight, towheaded and tanned, dressed in only an old pair of jeans. As I began to untie the ropes holding the overflowing trunk, he shouted, “Hey, Mister, you need a jack?”
I shouted back, “Sure do!” He took a long look at the car, back to front, then shouted “Just a minute” and headed for the barn.
He was back a few minutes later with a jack that fit the car perfectly. I thanked him profusely and started changing the tire. You can imagine my reaction when I let the car down and the spare went flat, too.
The boy was gone, so I gathered the kids and rolled the original tire down the hill to a small gift shop, hoping to use the phone to call a garage. I looked at the few remaining bills in my wallet and hoped they’d take an out-of-state check.
When I explained our situation to the man at the gift shop, he told me the nearest town was quite far, and the garage would take hours to reach us and charge a lot. “But,” he said, “I’m heading into town for errands now. I’ll drop you at the service station and pick you up on my way back.” He closed his shop — on a Saturday, the busiest day for these seasonal shops — and loaded us all, and the tire, into his station wagon.
Not until he returned us to our car did I notice he had no packages or bags, nothing to show he had run any errands. The tire repair cost me five dollars.
I thanked the man for his help, changed the tire, left the jack and lug wrench leaning against the fence, and continued our journey home. A vacation that would have ended in frustration ended instead with gratitude and friendship, due to the easy kindness of two strangers. The boy is long grown and the man no longer owns the shop, but every time we pass that way I think of them and smile, and in my heart I thank them again.