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Friday, December 21, 2012

A Christmas Story: A to B and Home Free

Hi everyone :) Last year around Christmas, I wrote of a few gifts I received. This year, I'd like to do the same.

I've been poor in my life. Really poor. But, it never truly bothered me. My poverty has bothered other people much more than it did myself. I was poor, but never ashamed. Life is what it is. Sometimes you are up and sometimes you are down. I've never measured myself against wealth, anyway. I've only ever wanted a fair shake and an honest opportunity. The rest I could do for myself, or, with a little help.

Not having money has it's drawbacks, though, don't get me wrong. And, the old saying- you gotta have money to make money rings more true the older I get. Having money also allows one to play above board. When you are broke, every little set back is a giant climb up a hill to recover from.

Which brings me to my story. If poverty insults or embarrasses you, just skip this. I'm not ashamed , so don't feel bad if this makes you uncomfortable.

A to B and Home Free

    One of the nicest things anyone has ever done for me was done by a person who shall always remain anonymous to me. It happened during this season of giving and goodwill. The man will never know what he a blessing he was. Let me tell you our story as an example of how, sometimes, a little means a lot.

    It had to be about 20 years ago now. I was messily divorced with young kids at home. The college classes I had attended were exchanged for a job to support us. You could say we were scraping pennies, but, really, the extra pennies we had were too quickly dropped into a jar for later rolling to be played with. I have always been a hard worker and so was my friend- later to become boyfriend and even later to become husband. We had no issue with starting at the bottom, anywhere. And, that's what we did. We both had bottom tier jobs.

    I was only getting by because I had bought a beat down old trailer home, so my living expenses were pretty slim in a city where affluence promoted a high cost of living. Posters, criers of social justice, at City Hall, proclaimed that kids living in trailers were homeless. They clearly didn't know what a home was. We were struggling, but we were happy in our home on wheels. I didn't need or want a net from the taxpayers, the city needn't have worried. But, they did. Our slight, though comfy, existence was continually threatened by developers eager to eat the land for profit. Indeed, not many years after this story, the friendly, though ugly, park where I had lived was bought up by displacers. My former neighbors had been dumped to the street. The handful of suicides were the only relief to be gained by some hard workers with no where to go. The city blinked and people died. But, that is another story. Now, you know how I lived.

    A neighbor man gave me a car which he had bought from a junkyard. No, that wasn't the kindness bestowed on me which this story is about. Though, it was kind. However, I later learned that the car had previously been owned by a drug dealer. The sides were wounded by bullet holes which made it a target to it's former antagonists. I worried, to say the least. However, we didn't venture into the places who's dark streets it used to frequent.

    Let me tell you about the car which became legendary, or, rather, infamous in the family. The car ran- against all odds and not always, but it ran. The tires were mostly good. It had a windshield, though it was cracked. It had a driver's side window, which stayed rolled up and rear glass, too. The other three were covered over in plastic. A couple of the door handles worked. The windshield wipers, heater and a/c were historical relics. One of the motor mounts was bad, so the engine, when it revved, vibrated and slammed the top of the starter, which broke the bendix- in other words, we went through a lot of starters. The head gaskets were crumbs embedded in crusty oil around the top of the engine. We consumed lots of oil. But, it didn't burn oil. Not that that really mattered. To say that I couldn't afford the repairs would be understatement. I wouldn't be idiot enough to drop a dime into that poor beast, anyway.

    We only used the car to get from A to B over back streets, when at all possible. Every time we got into it, it was like driving through a gauntlet of fire and Hell. I was always white knuckled and praying for Xanax. I wasn't worried about breaking down- that was old hat. My friend could change a starter with the spare in the trunk in under 15 minutes. No, it was the LAW I was in fear of.

    Every state and municipality has their own version of car stickers to proclaim good citizenship. My area is no different. We had plate stickers and tax stickers and an inspection sticker. Having an inspection sticker for my car was a far, far away dream. A more recent dream would be the fake sticker which I dreampt up with a color printer. Every week, I had to print a new one, because the dayglo orange faded so quickly. But, it sufficed to make us appear within the law. Never mind the fact that it was an extremely illegal thing to do. Yes, it was a brush with the law that scared me most. I lived in dread fear of it. It was that fear, too, which made me save my pennies. As long as that bright sticker fooled the law for just a few more months, I could get another car. 

    My friend and I shared the car. He had recently gotten out of the Navy and then lost his truck, so he was carless. He had an overnight job and I had a day job. We typically took back roads to get from his job to mine, but on this day, we were running late. We reluctantly determined to use the interstate, praying that we could make the short dash. It was just before Christmas and we were discussing the holidays and what to do for the kids. It was better than actually speaking about what could easily happen, at any moment. One could not do that without first knocking on wood and there was none around.

    It was rush hour. We hoped not to stall in traffic, as we froze in the heaterless car. If so, there was a high probability that we would end up having to replace a starter alongside one of the busiest interstates in the metropolitan area. We rounded a wide bend. The end was in sight. Both of us were breathing a little easier when the light that screams idiot said, "I'm hot!" No, no, no, no. I stared at the light, as the safe passage ahead of us became a fading tunnel in my vision. The needle steadily rose until we had no choice but to stop. We pulled over. Large projectiles whizzed past us with amazing speed and anger. Suddenly, we felt very mortal. Thoughts of pleasant holidays were as distant as the hope of any future. Dread was my name.

    I piled out of the passenger side and my friend followed suit. We popped the broken hood to determine which mechanical plague had visited us. It was a usual thing to run low on oil and to need to replenish the beast's appetite for it, but a quick check vetoed that easy remedy. As we poked around, we saw lights blinking through the crack between the hood and windshield. The raised hood was the only thing hiding us from the man about to revoke my immediate future. There was nothing to do. I was resigned to the worst. My mind did quick calculations. What would I tell my bosses at my new job? Would I be arrested? Who could I call to pick me up? Would I be finished with this horrible experience in time to meet the kids home from school? Would my meager savings cover what was inevitably in store for me?

    I peered around the hood to see my tormenter. It was a State Trooper. I was doomed. His disembodied feet, which were too large and loud stepped towards us as the projectiles, now more angry than ever, rolled by in slo mo with twisted phantom faces glaring from within. I felt like the memory they will all share around the office. I was the one who made them late to work. I felt small and naked.

    The feet were now attached to a man with a frozen face. We greeted him with honest friendliness. We were, after all, the guilty ones, not he. He asked us if we needed help. We replied that we did not, but thanks. The small talk was only fuel for my anxiety. As his mouth moved with pleasantries, his big feet slowly moved around the car. He surveyed the travesty we called a vehicle. He eyed the plastic over the windows. He peered between the still raised hood and windshield to examine my expired and printed stickers. He noted the expired tags. His cold eyes examined us both as we stood there in our obvious blue collars. His face defrosted. The knots in my stomach loosened with something called hope. The man whose feet now stood with ours, offered a few repair suggestions to us and walked back to his vehicle. My friend and I waited for him to come back after radioing in our illegal tags. I could feel the cold steel around my wrists.

    My friend and I were speechless. We still stood waiting for him to come back and arrest us. But, the man never came back. He drove away. He simply drove away.

    Looking down at the engine, I saw a split in a water hose. We added water enough to make it to the exit ramp and coasted the rest of the way to a parts store. Safely there, we looked again at the hose. My friend silently pulled out a knife and sliced the hose back enough to circumvent the hole and we were once again on our way.

    Prologue- a few months later, we got another car. We also got it legal.

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I think I wanted to tell my story because I am hoping that you might be inspired to give a hand up to a stranger if you run across the opportunity.

Merry Christmas, everyone!!!! 









17 comments:

  1. Wow, what an awesome thing that man did for you! The story gave me chills.

    I'll be on the lookout for people to do nice things for. I remember when I had car trouble (OK, one of the many times) and a man actually bought transmission fluid for my car.

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    1. Yes, it was awesome! The cops are usually not so forgiving of such things. To think of the cost involved..... my head spins!

      I try to look out for people who are obviously working poor. They are the people who fall through the cracks. If you are hooked into the system, you have a lot available to you, but so many people are either just above the threshold for programs or they are what I call "bootstrap" people who want to try to do for themselves.

      I imagine that transmission fluid was worth a lot more to you than what he paid for it. :) It's beautiful to think about, really. I love the whole "karma" thing.

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  2. Tela, what a timely story! A suggestion for your next book to write, make it a novel. You definitely have writing skills and can tell a story very well. I seeing being an author of novels in your future.

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    1. LOL!!! Thank you Susan for saying so, but writing novels is not in my future. There was a time when I thought about it, but I'm entirely too undisciplined to write. My hats off to those that do write for a living or for the want of one. It's not nearly as romantic as it seems to be.

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  3. Wow, what a story. I agree with Susan, I can see novels in your future. I thank you for reminding me that there are les fortunate people out there. It's very easy to take for granted a comfortable life style and go through daily activities oblivious to less fortunate around you. With your story in mind, I'll make an effort to be more observant. There are many struggling these days to make ends meet.

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    1. Thanks Kate :) I hope I didn't guilt trip you, that wasn't my intent. I just wanted to point out how relatively easy it can be to make a huge difference in someone's life without much more effort than the thought to do so. :) I sure hope that Trooper spent the day feeling good about himself. He deserved it.

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  4. Dear Tela,
    Thanks so much for sharing your story. I’m sitting here in tears of joy and sadness. Your story could just as easily been written about me. My grandmother told me many years ago, “No matter how little you have you always have enough to share.” We have had a rough couple of years with health and financial crisis, one right after the other, but the thing that helps me through it is doing something for someone else. It feels good to give and lifts your spirits. As you pointed out, it doesn’t have to cost money to give. We just filed bankruptcy and our future is uncertain. I was worried because I couldn’t give Christmas gifts this year and I couldn’t donate to the charities I normally do and for some reason those charities had auctions this year. I donated my handmade jewelry and those pieces raised more money than I have ever given before. When you’re feeling the weight of the world on your shoulders, open a door for someone, reach something on a shelf for someone, let them into traffic…ect and always smile. It warms your heart as well as theirs. Merry Christmas and May the Lord Bless you in the New Year.

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    1. Gina, I am so sorry to hear about your problems! But, I have to tell you, I shared in hopes of inspiring, but it is you who are an inspiration! You have learned the gift of giving even more than I have. How incredible that your charities just happened to do auctions and that you could donate!! Perfect all around. :) You are so right, too, it doesn't take money to be kind to our fellow humans.

      I hope the New Year brings you the best, Gina. May your temporary setback be merely a door opening unto a brighter future. :) Merry Christmas and Blessings!

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  5. Tela Dear, Your story brought tears to my eyes as I read the edge you were living on. How much could have been lost if not for the grace of the kind trooper. You are a strong woman with a beautiful spirit. Thank you for sharing this heartfelt reminder to pay it forward.

    Enjoy this Holiday time with family and friends. You are a blessing!

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    1. Thank you, Christine :) When I think of how different my future could have been if not for the trooper's kindness.... well, let's just say that one event was the difference between my being on the street and being on the way up.

      Have a wonderful Holiday, Christine, and know that you are a blessing to others. :)

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  6. What wonderful stories from everyone. Thank you for sharing....sincerely. I have recently discovered the true joy that comes from selfless giving....and felt selfish because I wanted to keep feeling it! LOL

    Thank you for sharing.

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    1. Hi Lyssie :) Whenever I do something nice, even when I am not consciously aware of it, I get a funny tickle in my throat. That's how I know I did right. Giving does give you an addictive feeling. :)

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  7. Hi, Tela--I have said much lately because I've been really focused on work, but rest assured, I've been reading. I'm glad you're feeling better and I'm glad you've been able to get more cabbing in than you thought you might. I mostly popped up this time because I read your story and I want to make sure to tell you this: you are an amazing woman. I admire and respect you tremendously, and I wish there wasn't an entire continent between us because I would treasure the opportunity to meet you and tell you in person.

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    1. Good morning Shaolingrrl :) Thank you so much for popping in. I know everyone can't comment all the time, but it's nice to know people read my scratchings. :) I run out of time in every day, so I know how it is. Thank you for your kind words, they mean a lot to me.

      Wouldn't it be cool to have some kind of blog party? Like do it in Nebraska, somewhere in the middle of the country? Just now, I got this huge, geeky scenario in my head where we could all do a virtual gathering with animated avatars. I'm afraid my geekdom doesn't rise to the ability to actually do it, though! LOL! I'm still stuck in William Gibson and Blade Runner. Now you know I'm getting old! LOL!!!! It would be cool, though.

      Have a wonderful Holiday- I hope you'll enjoy some time off.

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  9. Dear Tela, thank you for taking the time to share with us your story with heart felt purpose. I have always felt you were a strong person and now have a glimpse as to why. What does not break us down makes us stronger. Your strength is now shared with many others. Your teaching transcends wire and cabs, Tela. Merry Christmas.

    ~Susan

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  10. Thank you for sharing! Just goes to show something thats seems small and unimportant to one can be life changing to another. No inspiration for jewelery making from this blog today - Inspiration for life, Thanks again Tela!

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