by Lindalee Brownstein
We stood near our minivan by a remote North Carolina road, a mom and her 4-year-old son. Noise and smoke had suddenly shot from under the hood, and we stopped.
The sun was going down and few cars were passing. We waited for hours, hoping for a police car. The motorists who had offered help were men, and I was afraid to ride with them. My son stood by, not sensing my apprehension. He believed someone would help us.
Then a large man in overalls stepped from a pickup truck, and told me he had a friend with a garage. He would get the friend and return. Another hour ticked by.
Another pickup stopped, and two men got out. They seemed immense, and wore overalls with no shirts underneath. They didn’t talk, smile, or acknowledge me. Were these the friends with the garage? They inspected the engine as I hovered. I heard one say alternator; mechanics would use words like that. Maybe they would get me an alternator and install it here.
The first man returned. Yes, these were his friends. Both my alternator belt and air conditioning belt had broken. I could drive a few miles but would not make it to the next city. He said the mechanics would lead us to their garage, my son and I would follow in my van, and he would follow to be sure we didn’t break down. We crossed smaller and smaller roads. There were no buildings in sight, not even houses.
I started making contingency plans. I might be able to outrun the three men, but not while carrying my son. I told my son to do exactly as I said, immediately, even if I told him to do something very strange, like run away and hide. He looked at me trustingly. No questions, no panic, just “OK, Mom.”
We drove past a few cottages in the woods along the gravel road. At the end was a building the size of a one-car garage. Inside were belts and car parts hanging from nails on the wall. I’d never seen anything so reassuring.
The two silent men went to work. Barefoot children from the cottages surrounded us. “Would you like to pet our kitties?” they asked shyly. My son petted the cats’ exposed dirty skin and fur. I didn’t stop him. There would be time later for washing hands.
Then, belts replaced, the silent men disappeared. Where were they? What did I owe them? The first man said they did not want any payment. They saw that we needed help, so they helped. He led us back to the highway.
My son saw nothing unusual about what happened. Our van broke. Kind people helped. That is what he expected.
These men had spent their evening helping two people they’d never see again. They wouldn’t take payment, or even stay around for a “thank you.” They didn’t look inspiring, but they inspired me.