Saturday, March 15, 2008

kindness of strangers

My sister's first car was a 1984 Ford LTD, and she ended up driving it for about 5 years. It was a faded butter yellow with a dingy yellow interior. Although most of the cars in our family had official names*, the yellow car was never officially given a name. In high school, sister's friends called it "the tank" or "POS", but those names never really stuck.

One afternoon Sister, who was still in high school, noticed that she had lost two of her hubcaps. Dad went to the junk yard and found two more, neither of which matched the originals or each other. The car was also short one seatbelt, so while at the junkyard Dad found another seatbelt. When Sister asked him why it was red, he answered, "I thought this car could use a little more character."

Poor Sister. None of her friends wanted to ride the strip with her, which was good because she never had to pay for gas. But it was bad because that meant she had to straight-pin the lining of the ceiling all by herself.

This yellow submarine was also equipped with a "princess door" behind the driver's door. You had to be careful who you let sit in the back seat, because the door would not always open from the inside. Usually the driver would have to get out and open the back door, like royalty. Or -- if you were the lucky person who could open the door yourself, we'd call you a princess.

And although all of these things added to the flair of the yellow car, you could argue that at least it would get her from point A to point B. Except that wasn't always true, either.

The yellow car didn't like the rain. This was a big problem for living in middle TN, because Murfreesboro sits on top of a rain magnet. It's always raining. In fact, The Hater likes to tell a story that one semester he had an evening class on the other side of campus from his dorm, and EVERY week he had to either walk to class or back to his dorm in the rain. Lots of rain.

We both lived on campus at MTSU, and Sister and I would frequently call each other to see what was shaking. Sister called many times from lots of different places in M'boro, needing a ride because her car had just stopped in the rain. She learned that she would have to check the weather before she drove home because she was afraid it would die on her out in the boonies. I need to establish that the two of us literally had to push this car dozens of times - it was a constant wet affair.

One time Sister called and said she was outside my dorm. An unexpected storm had hit the rain magnet, and I went down to help her. The drainage system at MTSU was nonexistant... so big rains left the roads full of water. I was wading calf-deep in water when I got to the yellow car. We had to push it to the nearest student lot, which was up an incline from where we were. We'd done this many times, and assumed the pushing positions.

But this time was different. There were the usual gawkers with umbrellas staring from the sidewalk, but this time some guy dropped his backpack on a bench and started pushing with us. Sister and I were surprised - this had never happened before.

We needed the extra muscles getting the car up the incline, but with this stranger's help, we got her to a legal place where she could dry after the rains were gone.

We were all drenched. The rain had been coming down in buckets. We'd had to wade the car to higher ground, and we couldn't've done it by ourselves. We apologized to the now soaked hero, who said it was no big deal, picked up his backpack, and swam on. We thanked him.

But sometimes a simple thank you doesn't seem big enough to cover your appreciation.

A few years later a friend of mine broke her foot. She called me because I was in nursing school at the time, which meant I must have known what to do. We iced it down and suggested she go to the ER. She didn't want to go. We told her to call us when she changed her mind. She lived on the third floor of a dorm that didn't have an elevator - and only outside stairs.

This girl was hard core stubborn. She decided that she'd be able to get to her car herself, and hobbled down three flights of stairs herself on her way to the car. She admitted that by the time she got to the parking lot she'd take a few hops, cry, and hop again.

She reports that a stranger came over to her and asked what was wrong. As she told the story between sobs that she was on her way to the ER because she thought she broke her foot, he put down his backpack and gave her a piggy-back ride to her car.**

I have no way of knowing if it was the same guy who helped us push the yellow car up the hill, but I like to think that it was. I'd like to think that he'll somehow stumble across this post and know that many years later, he's still remembered and appreciated.

I called Sister to verify the details, and she said that this morning she was thinking about the yellow car because she was driving the to grocery store and questioned hitting a puddle. She had to remember that her current mode of transportation would not stall in the rain. We both laughed and talked about how many miles we ended up pushing that car to higher ground.

* Poppy, Buttercup, Walter, Harrison, Trigger, Tonto, Bullet, Elvira, Eleanor, Neyland

In albums of pictures, Sister and I can't remember taking one of the POS yellow car. I stole this one from a google search.

** The girl in this story is Marianne. You can find a link to her page to the right under "Sightseeing". I don't think she'll mind me telling her story.


Anonymous said...

I like the word couldn't've....I wonder if it's "foxworthy"..??

genderist said...

It's totally foxworthy...

Molly Jane said...

Oh man, I do remember the butter yellow ford. Good times.

Cerulean Bill said...

My wife shared a car with her three sisters. It was pretty beat up. At one point, the push-button transmission failed, so her father hard-wired a set of doorbell switches to do the same thing. From then on, they referred to 'their electric car'.