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.