The Hitchhiker

by Cathy Weber-Zunker
Minnesota, USA

The Hitchhiker

The memory of one particular summer evening is still burned in my brain as if it were yesterday. I can still feel the dry heat of the day being expunged by storm clouds rolling in. There was nothing but wide-open fields for miles and miles around our rural Minnesota home. We occasionally saw cars going by on the highway, but no one we knew ever just stopped by this far out of town.

We never saw strangers — not ever — and here on this sizzling hot evening was a real live one walking up our driveway. A young man, a slightly built hitchhiker, came walking up our long curved gravel road to the house while we kids stood and gawked as he approached our door.

This young man was out in the middle of nowhere. He knew there was a storm coming, and he desperately needed shelter. Not wanting to intrude on our home and family, he asked my dad if he could sleep in our barn for the night for protection from the rain.

Instead of saying yes, my dad loaded us all up in the 1959 Chevrolet: five kids, my mom, and the hitchhiker.

Our family consisted of three older children whose father had died young and three more children from the union of my mother and father. Our older brother Jerry was in the Navy, on a ship somewhere overseas.

It was too far away for me to even imagine what kind of a world he was seeing. All we little kids knew was that Jerry was a very long way from home and that our mom and dad worried about him.

I had never seen my mom sit next to my dad in the car before, but the hitchhiker took her seat near the passenger door, and she scooted to the center next to my dad. Mom watched the man fidget nervously as we drove him 10 miles to the next town, where dad bought the stranger a room for the night along with a hot evening meal.

In the car after we dropped off the hitchhiker, I heard my dad say to my mom, “I just hope that if Jerry ever needs anything, that this kindness will be returned to him.”

Weeks later, Dad told my uncle about the hitchhiker. My uncle suggested that perhaps my dad shouldn’t have taken the risk of having a stranger in our car. My dad replied, “You are absolutely right. I should have invited him into our home.”

Originally published as HeroicStories #698 on March 8, 2007

2 thoughts on “The Hitchhiker”

  1. On a bitterly cold night in 1974, I was driving my VW beetle home from college for Christmas vacation when I saw a hitchhiker. I instantly knew his situation was desperate because of the weather, and I stopped for him, heedless of the danger. He turned out to be a cabinet maker from Boston, nearly my own age, and over the next eight hours we became good friends. By the time we reached my exit on I-79 I knew I couldn’t just leave him on the highway at midnight in that weather and expect to have any peace about it. I took him home and announced to my father that he was spending the night! My father was quietly furious, and sat up all night clutching a baseball bat, I found out later. By the time I woke in the morning, everyone else was up and gone, having taken my new friend back to the interstate to catch another ride. Since then, there have been several times that I myself was forced to hitchhike, and someone has always stopped for me. I firmly believe that there is a relationship.

  2. This really hit home! My brothers were in the Army and overseas a lot and I can only hope that they too had wonderful people to care for them in their times of need!


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