The New Year’s Gift

by Jerri Barrett
California, USA

The Near Years Gift

On New Year’s Eve many years ago, I was driving back to graduate school in Rochester, New York. In Binghamton, New York, halfway between my parents’ house and school, smoke suddenly started pouring out of my car engine. My car was an old Ford Mustang that had seen better days.

I got off the highway and made it to a small gas station near the exit. The attendant found that my engine was completely without oil. I bought enough oil to refill the engine, but we saw it leaking out again rapidly. He sold me a few extra cans and gave me directions to a good garage he knew of.

At the garage, I told the owner what had happened. He came out, looked the car over, and checked the oil; it was half empty already. He said I’d have to wait; other customers were ahead of me, and they were supposed to close at 1:00 p.m. for New Year’s Eve. It was nearly 11 a.m. and I was in a strange town with no place to go, so I sat on some plastic crates and waited.

Eventually the owner came over to tell me my oil pressure gauge had snapped off. He’d have to get a new part from the auto parts store, which was closed, but he’d make some calls. I found out later the store owner was his friend, and had not only reopened the store but delivered the part himself.

The whole time, I was figuring out how much cash was in my pocket, how much was in my bank account, would they take a check, and what I could leave for collateral if they wouldn’t.

For three hours, people came and went. One worker bought me a soft drink, and the mailman gave me half his sandwich when he stopped for lunch at the garage. I was too afraid of being unable to pay the bill to buy anything for myself.

Finally, my car was off the lift and the owner called me over. “That will be seven forty,” he said. I nearly fainted. “Seven hundred and forty dollars?” I squeaked. “No, seven dollars and forty cents,” he said. “I have to charge you for the part.”

I was amazed and filled with gratitude. I wanted to protest, but I needed what little money I did have for groceries and utilities until my next student loan arrived. With thanks and hugs for everyone in the garage, I gave them the tin of homemade Christmas cookies my mother had given me that morning.

Their kindness has stayed with me for more than 20 years. All those men, from the garage owner to the mailman, knew they’d never see me again since I wasn’t local. They could have ripped me off or charged the repair’s true value — over $200. Instead of taking advantage of my misfortune, they gave me the best New Year’s gift ever — true kindness and charity.

Originally published as HeroicStories #548 on Sept 14, 2004

6 thoughts on “The New Year’s Gift”

  1. I had almost the identical experience in the late ’70’s on a broiling-hot July day driving from Missouri to Iowa to see my boy friend. A tiny, tiny town, a really run-down-looking gas station that looked more like a hoarder’s shed, and three gentlemen judging by whose appearances, if I had passed them in the street, I wouldn’t have wanted it to be a dark alley. They were my angels! My thermostat had died and I was really lucky I was so close to the exit. I had zero money. They didn’t even ask for any, they just replaced the part, topped up my car’s fluids, and waved me on my way. I try to pass it on whenever I can.

  2. There are so many good people doing kind things for strangers. Too bad we hear of kindness so seldom, it seems like a rare event. Thank you for this story and I hope we can each consider passing on a kindness to a stranger in need. At the very least, smile and say hello, there are times that means a great deal.

  3. They are the true heroes. There is no need to wait for “big” things – the everyday opportunities make a big difference in someone’s life.

  4. What a fantastic story!! And what a terrific group of people to all come together to help a college girl just passing through town with the troubles with her car. Ihave been to Binghamton NY over 20 years ago and even tho the town had been severely impacted with the reduction in the size of IBM, the people were still very nice to folks who came in for a visit and business meeting at IBM. After our day’s meetings, we would go out into the local area and check out the various restaurants. We found an Italian place that was absolutely huge in downtown Binghamton that was for the most part, empty. We had an outstanding meal and we talked to our waitress. We asked her why this fantastic restaurant was so empty with such excellent food. She said the town was reeling with all the hits that IBM was taking in downsizing. That meant layoffs and people leaving the area in the surrounding towns. Since we were there on a weeknight, the locals only came out for the weekends for dinner out when they could afford it. I have never been back since then, but I was impressed with the area and I liked the friendliness of the folks from that area.

  5. This sort of thing happens every day, all over the world. And yet, every time I see or hear a story like this I say “Wow!”, as if it were rare and extraordinary. I’m proud of these people in Birmingham, New York.

  6. My wife’s family is from–and still in–the Binghamton area. W have been visiting them regularly for over 50 years, starting when we were dating, except for 5 years or so when Uncle Sam saw fit to send me overseas. I’ve never had a problem with any person I did business with in that area–even bought a 3-year old used car that lasted me another 12, with appropriate maintenance. The family is smaller now on one end–we are the older generation–and larger on the other–we all have grandchildren. I get a lot of pleasure from the HeroicStories; keep up the good work.


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