by Lin Witham
Christmas 2001 I raced to ready my young son for my new boss’s holiday party. With the potluck item and clean clothes on my son, my holiday spirit lagged. I stopped for gas before the 40-minute drive, then took my son inside the station to pay.
A frantic woman ran in the door, screaming. She told the attendant the hose had jumped out, sprayed her with gas, and was still running. Her coat, hands, and hair were dripping gas. He pointed to the bathroom, waited on the next customer, then waved us up. She came out of the bathroom, saying the sink was too small.
A man came in, took her hand, and said calmly, “I saw it all. I’ll help you.” He told the attendant to use the shut off valve. The attendant didn’t know its location; together they found it. Then the calm man asked, “Do you have a hose to spray her off?”
All three went behind the station and found a spigot, but no hose. They returned, but she wanted to avoid the hospital because she had no money. She looked at me, pleading, “Can you take me home to shower”?
I hesitated only a moment. I handed over my gasoline money, saying, Come on! She gave the calm man keys to move her car. I put my son in his car seat and spread a blanket for her.
Heading up my driveway, I noticed her car following. I panicked briefly, realizing I’d brought them both home. Could it be a set up? I stopped, quickly gave her my house key, saying, The bathroom’s upstairs.
I began to walk my son next door. I told the man, You cannot go inside. I asked my neighbor (a single woman I hardly knew) to watch my son a while as I was in a strange situation.
I returned and found towels and clothing for the woman in my shower. We garbage bagged her clothes. Back outside, the calm man asked to use my hose to wash gas off her car. He never questioned my fear to let him in.
My neighbor called a friend to come check on me. He came bearing a pot of tea and cookies, my neighbor and my son. I invited in the calm man, and we all sat to talk. The calm man was homeless and drifting. I complimented his calm and leadership ability. He said, “I just did the right thing”.
I called the shelter and offered to take him. He asked just to be returned to the gas station because he’d left things nearby. He expected nothing else. He was a gracious, kind, and helpful man.
After tea the woman left, clean and healthy. I hugged and thanked my neighbor and her friend as they left with tears in my eyes. I missed the Christmas party, but that was the best Christmas season I ever had. The effort of neighbors and strangers to help each other was remarkable.