by Cathy Weber-Zunker
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 in the air, being propelled out by storm clouds rolling in. There was nothing but wide-open fields for miles and miles around our rural Minnesota home. We saw occasional 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 desperately needed to find 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: the 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 over seas.
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 so 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.
After we dropped off the hitchhiker, as we headed home in the car that night 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, having told my uncle about the hitchhiker, the 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.”