My Turn to Break Down

by John Stevens
Florida, USA

My Turn to Break Down

I’ve been in the pressure cleaning business since 1979, and one of my accounts was a large grocery store chain in Florida. One day in 1984, I came out of a store after dropping off the invoice for the previous night’s work, and spotted a woman walking with two small children.

She was probably in her early thirties, with dishwater-blonde, shoulder-length hair. One of her children was a boy, about six years old; the other, a girl, looked like she was about four. When her little family arrived at their car, I heard it try and fail to start — and then the battery went dead.

In my truck, I had a battery load tester as well as tools, so I asked her if I could help. She just broke down and started crying. She said her husband had died without insurance, so she and her children were going back home — somewhere in New England.

The young woman had purchased a quart of milk, bread and bologna. She gave it to the children, who acted as if they hadn’t eaten in a while. She said she only had $10 to her name, and was going to try begging for money when she ran out of gas.

The weather was terribly hot, and the air conditioner in her car didn’t work.

Her car battery had a dead cell, so I removed the whole battery. Then I went to a parts store, bought a new battery, and installed it in her car. I remember wondering if that old car would make it up to New England, but I could only do so much. Just to make sure she’d be able to get somewhere, I dumped two 5-gallon cans of gas in her tank and gave her $50 in cash.

Wouldn’t you know it, she started crying all over again. She told me she couldn’t afford to repay me right then, so I gave her my business card and told her to pay me when she could. She just kept thanking me over and over and over. I figured I’d never see that money again, but at least I felt good by helping her and her children.

My late wife of 27 years used to get halfway mad at me, because I was always stopping to help disabled motorists, who most of the time simply ran out of gas. I just helped because I could. In all those years, only one person took the time to repay me.

Almost three years after helping that young mother I received a letter from an unknown address. I opened it to find a money order for $95 and a short note. It was from that young woman, telling me she was finally back on her feet, and thanking me again for helping her when she was broke and broken down. She said she would never forget my kindness.

Now it was my turn to shed the tears.

Originally published as HeroicStories #727 on October 11, 2007

1 thought on “My Turn to Break Down”

  1. Very nice story, glad you felt comfortable sharing something you did, it felt familiar. We often assume today that people have cell phones and they don’t need our help, and it’s usually true. On the other hand, even if help isn’t needed, I have found that just the offer of concern and the fact that someone stopped has meant a lot to people. And it’s a nice memory for me, too.


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