by P. Fletcher
Oh the times our young family returned to New York City from vacation with just enough gas and no money for tolls! In 1971 our tight budget nearly ended our family vacation early. We were 30 years old, and had saved up just enough to go camping for two weeks with our young boys, ages 7 and 3.
Heading north from the city around midnight, the car suddenly died. We coasted to the side of the New York State Thruway. My NYC born and raised husband was new to driving and had no clue what might cause an engine to die. I dug a flashlight out of the camping gear and we looked under the hood together, blankly.
Just then a trooper stopped. He radioed a tow truck and kindly stayed with us while we waited for it. After talking to us he gently broke the news that it was probably an alternator problem. We could expect to pay about $70.
I’m certain my face must have mirrored my husband’s stricken expression. We’d planned to spend not more than $100 for the whole camping trip. The repairs would end our family vacation.
The kind trooper left when the tow truck arrived. The 50-ish driver towed us to the gas station he owned. He prepared to work on our car, “since your kids are asleep and I’m awake.” We moved the kids into their sleeping bags and they and I slept on two tired sofas in the station. I needed to be well rested to drive us back to the city.
My husband joined the owner in the garage to learn something about cars and engines.
When my husband woke me I reached for my purse. But the station owner insisted my husband had done most of the work. He would accept only $10 “for parts”.
I drove north from there, both of us happy our vacation could continue, though we’d have to pinch pennies for two weeks.
For the next seven years we stopped at that station whenever we were near: to get gas, to get a taillight fixed, whatever. The owner always remembered us and exclaimed over how much our sons had grown.
The last time we were at the station, just before we moved away to the Midwest, I insisted on paying the old alternator bill. The owner laughed and said it’d been paid many times over from our years of stops.
Then he told us the story of the kind trooper who had waited with us in the night. When the tow truck had arrived, the trooper had paid half the bill without our knowledge, and alerted the station owner to our dilemma.
Our $10 contribution had been a token. We all laughed as the owner told us how hard it was to invent the white lie about my husband’s help that night. I still fondly remember these two people, who helped my family when they didn’t have to.
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3 thoughts on “Secret Generosity”
New York State Troupers are some of the finest people on earth. As a native New Yorker, I knew many of them over the years. Since I moved to WA, I have become even more impressed with them, since police agencies here are way lacking in both compassion the the ability to do their jobs. Moving to WA was the biggest mistake I ever made in my life.
I love this story for the compassion and the humor, and the fact that the writers showed their appreciation by patronizing their benefactor when they could.
This reminds me of a similar situation, on a late night in late November, with an unreliable vehicle. We were driving our daughter and her newborn baby from Seattle, WA to Sacramento, CA to stay with us while her husband deployed with the Navy. We had flown up and were driving their pick up truck south on Interstate 5. About 200 miles from home, the headlights started to dim and we feared an alternator problem. We had just passed a large truck stop and were turning around to go back when the truck died for good. Coasting to the side of the road, we assessed our situation. My husband called our son to head north to pick us up and I was on the phone with roadside assistance to get a tow truck to take us to a dealership nearby. The nice person on the phone also dispatched a taxi to take my daughter, the baby, and me someplace warm. The cab driver showed up before the tow truck and our son. He turned off the meter and sat with us for awhile, to make sure my husband was safe. He then took the three of us to a nearby Denny’s, still with the meter off. before he drove off, I gave him all the cash I had – maybe $25. He was so kind to us and I’m sorry I don’t remember the name of the cab company now. There are kind people everywhere.