by Robert Meeks
My father had a wonderful spontaneous streak. One summer evening about 11:00 pm when I was eight or nine years old, he decided it was time to go camping. “Let’s go!”
We all flew into action. My older brother checked the oil and tires while the rest of us packed up: three sisters, three stepbrothers, two cousins, my parents, and I, a total of 12 excited campers, driving into the night.
We headed east from Los Angeles toward the big redwoods of Sequoia National Park. Somewhere around Bakersfield, my stepmother urged my father to stop for gas, but as usual, he wanted to press on to a cheaper station. In Visalia, the cheap gas station my father was seeking was now closed—along with all the others in town. It was, after all, the middle of the night.
My father, certain we could make it to camp, headed up the mountain. As you’ve probably figured out, we ran out of gas about three quarters of the way up. Mounted to the front of our truck was one of those beautiful Honda trail 70s, a boy’s best friend. Looking for gas, my father rode that bike upward until it, too, run out of gas.
In the distance, he saw a campfire smoldering down in a ravine. He made his way down. As he walked through the camp asking for help, he heard people whispering, and even the hammer of a gun click—but still no one spoke. After the second time around, my father hollered out, “For the last time, my family and I are out of gas and stranded on the road, can someone help us, please!”
Still no one spoke. My father bowed his head to pray as he started to walk away. At last, a man hollered out, “Wait for me to get dressed and I’ll help you.” Some time later, the stranger pulled his truck up next to ours. He got out of his truck—and grabbed a fuel nozzle from the back! All of us, including my father, watched with complete amazement. We had never seen a man with a gas-pump truck before! That done, the selfless man wished all of us a happy vacation as he shyly slipped back into his truck to pull away.
My father rushed toward his truck, saying “Please, wait,” thanking him profusely while trying to pay him for both his generosity and the fuel. But the man refused my father’s money, saying, “No thank you, it was my privilege. Just enjoy your time on the mountain, that’s all I want.”
It was one of the greatest things I have ever witnessed: extraordinary kindness and generosity from a complete stranger. My father now suffers from dementia and is 83 years old, but I do not believe he will ever forget this story. Each time he tells the story of this man, he chokes up, fighting back tears of joy for both the answered prayer and the generosity of this selfless gentleman.
From my father, my family, and myself: Thank you, kind sir. I am sure your family is as proud of you as mine is of my father.