If You Happen to Blink
Kathleen Listman
Detroit, Illinois is one of those towns that you'll miss if you happen to blink driving through it. But on Thanksgiving twenty years ago, I did not miss it, even though I was blinking back the tears to keep them from streaming down my cheeks. By the time the car rolled to a stop in Detroit, ominous white smoke obscured the hood. I was frantic.

"I didn't do anything wrong, really!" I whined plaintively as Dad stepped out of the car to check the damage.

Actually I had; I was supposed to take the exit toward Pittsfield. But as an inexperienced teenage driver, I had left the freeway one exit too soon. Still that was no reason for the billowing cloud and loss of engine power. We were stranded, no one on the street; even the filling station was closed. I imagined all the people behind lock doors, enjoying turkey and stuffing.

"Careful" mom screamed. "It's still hot!"

"Get an old towel out of the trunk!" Dad barked at me.

As I fumbled with boxes, trying to pull out the towel, I heard a screen door slam behind me. An old man, with white stubble for a beard had stepped out onto his porch, a crumbling concrete slab breaking away from the tiny house.

"Hey! How ya' doing?" He called out.

"Car's quit." Dad yelled back. "Is there a mechanic around here?"

"Nah... Wait, I'll get Gary."

He disappeared behind the houses and eventually came back with a young man carrying a tool box. They stood on the roadside chatting with Dad until Gary decided it was safe enough to open the hood. After rummaging around he pronounced, "Water pump's shot. Nothin' I can do about it."

He was about to walk away when the old man called cajolingly. "Let me have your truck, so I can tow 'em to Pittsfield." Gary didn't look too pleased.

"Ya going to have 'em over for Thanksgiving at your house, instead, Gary?"  the old man asked with a smirk. Soon we were chained to the back of Gary's rusty pickup truck, Dad steering gingerly so we wouldn't accidently ram it.

After the bumpy tow down the country road to Pittsfield, Dad offered to pay the old man, but he refused. So after leaving the car parked in the lot of a garage, Dad bought him dinner. A cheap dinner because the only place we found open was a fried chicken joint. Instead of scrumptious turkey and stuffing in Missouri with Grandma, we ate fried chicken and biscuits with an old man whom Gary had referred to as a tottering busybody. But he swore this was the best Thanksgiving he'd had in years.  

First published: February, 2014
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