[Mine was a different color – tan)

A story today on the Kindness Blog – He Fixed My Car, and My Christmas – Kindness Blog – reminded me of a somewhat similar experience of mine.

It was the end of December, 1969. I was in the Army, stationed at Fort Polk, Louisiana, in a Basic Training Battalion Headquarters Company. We had gotten leave for two weeks because the whole thing shut down for the Holidays and I was on my way back from Chicago. I was driving my 1961 Chrysler New Yorker, one of those huge (20 feet long and 3,000 pounds of steel), tail finned, monster V8 (a 426, but not the famous Hemi-Head) engined eaters of highway miles. One of its chief advantages was that it had a trunk only slightly smaller than New Jersey where I could keep all the stuff that didn’t fit in (or, really, belong in) my locker in the barracks. Luckily, I had given myself an extra day for the trip.

Somewhere around the middle of Illinois the speedometer stopped working. Had I known the details of how it was connected, I would have been more worried, or should have been. Somewhere around St. Louis, there began to be a sort of screaming noise from the front end, but I kept going. About half way down the State of Missouri it got just too loud and I pulled over. It was then the middle of the night and freezing cold. I got out the jack to investigate, since I couldn’t see the problem.

The noise seemed to be coming from the Left front wheel. I jacked up that corner. The wheel fell off. The wheel bearing was destroyed. This was decades before cell phones and even CB Radio was hardly known outside the trucking industry. I put the hood up and bundled up in blankets (Always carry blankets when driving any distance in the Midwest in Winter!) in the back seat to wait for help or dawn, whichever came first.

Help did come about dawn in the form of a Missouri Highway Patrol officer who allowed as how he had an uncle who had a repair shop down the road and a tow truck, and he would tell him to come get me, and probably could fix the car. This was a Sunday morning. I began to seriously worry about how I could pay for the tow, let alone the repair (if it was possible) because I only had about $25 in my pocket, but there was no choice.

Well, maybe about an hour later the uncle showed up with his tow truck. It would be hard to find a better example of a Southern Good Old Boy. He got the car hooked up and we went to his shop. That enterprise consisted of a tool and storage shed with a couple of gas pumps and a junk yard of wrecks out back. The actual work area was outside. He extracted the remains of the wheel bearing and said he probably had a wreck out back that could match it. He went and did find the matching parts. So, there he was, working outside in the freezing cold, washing parts in a tank of solvent with his bare hands. He got the wheel put back together. I was still trying to figure how I could possibly pay the bill. Would he maybe trust me to send the money after I got back to post?

The repair was finished and tested. It was time to talk about money for the towing and several hours of work in those conditions.

He said, “Well, young fella, would twenty bucks be too much?”

I couldn’t believe it. I said, “That’d be about perfect.”

He added, “Remember to get that speedometer cable fixed and have that other wheel checked just in case.”

And off I went, careful to match my speed with other cars, and hoping I had enough to gas to get back to Ft. Polk. I did, and made it back in time.

I can’t believe that would have been his regular price. Was it just kindness or did he give me a support-our-troops discount? Or, maybe in those parts there are ordinary looking people with a second sight who use it for what they understand as The Lord’s Work. Maybe because it was Sunday. I don’t know, but I was and am grateful.

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