I was never used to kindness from people I knew. Even less so from people I didn’t. But in the span of just a few hours I received so many acts of random kindness that it brought me to tears.
Okay, I didn’t actually bawl and cry, but I welled up a little. Most of it was because strangers came to my aid when I least expected it. And the rest was because of my pride.
I know, I know. Pride goeth before any falls and such. I get it. And mine certainly fell. But if you’ll bear with me a little longer, I’ll tell you how a grown woman (aged, really) found herself in a situation where she needed help, didn’t quite know it, and didn’t really have to ask.
The aged woman is me. Okay, I’m only forty-four, but I’m an old forty-four. I’m old because in my youth I performed some pretty hard labor. My size and ability to man-handle bales of hay, crates of corn, and stacks of tobacco conditioned me to do most everything for myself. I’m not that tiny woman that men fall all over themselves trying to assist. One look at me performing any task screams, “Nah, she can do it.”
Did I mention I was once run over by a tractor? Well, that’s a different tale, and someday I’ll tell it, but knowing it now just confirms in your mind that when I say I’m an old forty-four, I have my reasons. And my aches and pains.
As a woman who is confident in her ability to take care of herself, there are some things I habitually do, like perform a visual check of my car before I get in and start it up. I look at the tires, the windows, and the door handles. The tires for obvious reasons, the windows to ensure none are cracked or broken, and the door handles to ensure no one has been messing around in an attempt to burglarize. I look for the tell-tale signs of tread marks through the mud puddle at the foot of my driveway for clues to a stranger’s presence, and I always carry a small flashlight. You just never know.
So the other morning, as I prepared to leave for work in the wee hours, I performed my visual inspection of my car, like always, and noticed nothing out of line. I drove all the way to work with no incident. During my shift, my supervisor instructed me to go to another office a few miles away to offer my assistance. I got to my car and saw that my rear passenger tire was melting off its rim.
Okay, so it wasn’t literally melting, but that’s what it looked like. The rubber tire was all floppy and there was no air to keep the rim off the concrete underneath. And I was still on the clock and in a terrible hurry.
Luckily for me, there is a tire shop only a block away. And while they had only been open a couple of hours at this point, they were already jam-packed with various cars of all kinds. I scooted inside and asked if someone could look at my tire. The guy pumped it full of air, told me it wouldn’t hold long because there was a gash in the side of my tire, and that he wouldn’t be able to replace it for another few hours. I didn’t have that long. At most, I had about twenty minutes to grab a bite to eat and get to the other office. I flew.
Okay, so I didn’t sprout wings and actually fly, but you get that I was in a hurry, right? About four blocks from my destination, I heard, more than felt, the tire go flat again. Hoping that four blocks on the rim wouldn’t do much damage, I decided I’d take care of it after work. I parked out back and went inside to finish my day.
I usually get off work around eleven-thirty or noon. On this particular day, with overtime, it wound up being around one thirty or two – still plenty of daylight left to fix this.
I clocked out and went to the trunk of my car. No jack. No tire tool. No anything, except a tired old donut tire that came with the car nearly ten years ago. I wasn’t sure it was any good, nor could I remember the last time I’d had it checked. This uncertainty was the first chip in my armor of pride.
But how did I lose a jack and a tire tool, out of my trunk, from under the carpet that covers the spare tire well, and from under all the junk that litters the carpet? I had no clue.
I went back inside the building and asked a co-worker if I could borrow his jack. He handed me his keys without looking up.
I retrieved the jack and tire tool from my co-worker’s trunk, marveling at how chintzy these things had become over the years, and proceeded to place the jack under my car. I had to lay down on the concrete parking lot to do it. This began the second chink in my armor of pride.
Now, remember, I’m the old farm girl who knows how to disassemble an entire rotor tiller and put it back together. I was the kid who was melting down small sinkers to make larger ones for the deeper parts of the creek that ran by my childhood home. There was even that time I replaced a headlight in my own vehicle. I am not afraid of dirt.
But boy did it hurt my pride to have to get down on all fours, slowly so as to be careful of my aching back, gingerly lengthen out to lay on my side, taking care to extend my right leg slowly so as not to aggravate an already bad knee. Once in position, I scooted this little toy jack under my car, lifting it only enough to take some pressure off the rim while still allowing for the necessary friction between it and the concrete to be able to break the seal on the lug nuts, otherwise the tire would just spin.
It felt like it took five full minutes for me to stand upright again, all the while remembering the good, sturdy jacks of my youth and wishing I’d had one at my disposal.
Taking the tire tool over to the tire, I capped the end over one of the lug nuts and gave it a sharp yank left. Nothing. I affixed it so that the lever extended parallel to the ground and put my weight into it, arms extended for leverage, and bounced a couple of times. Nothing. Not even a squeak. In frustration I picked up my foot and stomped the arm of the tire tool.
That’s when I remembered, rather painfully, that I was wearing my orthotics, those little hard plastic inserts the podiatrist said I needed in my shoes because I’m old. And then I remembered, also rather painfully, my bad right knee.
Something green caught my peripheral vision. A man in scrubs was walking toward me. As he approached he identified himself as an employee of the medical building next door. He wanted to know if I could use a hand.
Wow. All my life I had just taken care of things on my own, never needing assistance, and never thinking to ask. And I don’t recall anyone just coming up out of the blue to offer it, either. Let alone cute and in green scrubs. Episodes of recent television dramas filled my head.
That’s when my pride began to wilt further into my increased gratitude. At least until I saw that he couldn’t break any of the lug nuts free either. Then I didn’t feel so bad. My foot was still hurting, though, and I began to wonder if I’d cracked the hard plastic insert in my shoe. I made a mental note to check that later.
I returned my co-worker’s tools to his trunk, thanked Mr. Scrubs for trying to help, and went inside to find a phone book. I called a local tire shop and explained my dilemma. The young man with whom I spoke said he’d be right there. He arrived with a proper jack and a proper cross bar with which to remove the tire and rim from my car. He did it in under three minutes. In another forty seconds, he had inspected and then affixed my donut spare and instructed me to follow him back to the shop. He did all that without breaking a sweat, let alone any orthotics he probably wasn’t wearing anyway. Those are things reserved for us old folks.
He neither charged me for the twenty mile round trip nor for the labor exerted that day. My only charge was for the new tire and mounting/balancing. Amazingly, my entire bill was less than a hundred dollars.
Back in the car and safely on the road, I counted my blessings the whole way home. Strangers had come to my elderly aid for things I had just discovered I could no longer do alone. It was a strange feeling to not be able to do those things for myself anymore, and my pride was indeed hurt. But I think my gratitude overshadowed the hurt pride.
I don’t know if I can chalk up the kindness of each of these strangers to my wonderful community, or if the stars were just aligned perfectly and in my favor that day. I like to think that given the proper tools, I may have been able to do it myself after all. I may never know.
I’m also thankful that my shoe insert is not cracked or broken. That might have just sent me over the edge. And I’m glad to know that chivalry isn’t quite dead yet, even if my pride is at the end of its rope.