"PAYING IT FORWARD"
ROGER DEAN KISER, author
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THE WORLD IT IS A CHANGIN'
The wife and I left Modesto, California headed to Brunswick, Georgia to start a new job I had taken several weeks earlier. As finances were tight, we sold what little we had accumulated, over the past five years, in order to make the three-thousand mile trip. With only about two-hundred dollars in pocket there would be no fancy meals and maybe, just maybe, one night at a motel to take a shower and get a good nights sleep. The remainder of the time it would be a cheap burger at McDonalds and sleeping in the small car.
Though tired, it always seemed to perk me up, just a bit, as we left state after state behind. When boredom set in I would turn on the C.B. Radio and listen to the truckers yell and scream at one another. When the language would get a little course I would reach over and turn off the radio. About half way through Texas I reached over to turn off the radio when I heard "Is there anyone out there kind enough to help us?"
"Get off the trucker's channel, idiot," yelled a truck driver.
I reached over, picked up the microphone and said, "What do you need?"
"We are stranded at mile marker 576, east-bound side," said a man.
I watched for the next mile marker sign, which read 574.
"I'm at 574 east-bound. What do you need?"
"Can you two idiots get off the trucker's channel?" said the trucker again.
I got no reply from the stranded man.
As I reached mile marker 576 there stood a black man, beside an old brown van. I pulled up behind his vehicle, got out and walked toward him. As I passed the van I looked in and noticed about five elderly people.
"What's the problem?" I asked.
"Not sure. I can't find my wallet. I think I left it in the washroom at a restaurant about thirty miles back," he told me.
"What do you need?" I asked.
"You got any extra gas?"
"Just a minute," I said, as I turned and walked back to my car. I explained the situation to my wife.
"Dad, we got just enough money to get us to Georgia, maybe. We can't afford to help anyone else," she replied.
"I can't just leave them stranded."
"Do what you got to do, hon," she said, shaking her head.
I walked back to the van, pulled out my wallet and handed the man twenty dollars.
"You follow us back to the restaurant and I'll give you the money back," said the man.
"I can't afford to go backwards, I just can't," I told him.
He took my name and new address and promised to send me the money when he reached his home in Jackson, Mississippi.
I followed them to the next gas station and waved as they pulled up to the pump. Then we drove back onto the freeway and continued our journey.
"Are we going to make it, Dad?"
"I don't know," I said, biting my bottom lip.
Leaving Texas we had about sixty dollars in pocket. We knew there would be no bath and good nights rest at a motel.
As we continued through Louisiana the traffic became heavy. All at once my wife screamed. When I looked up I saw furniture falling off a pickup truck driving in front of us. I swerved to the right, as quickly as possible, but still ran over something. I got out of my car and walked to the front to see what damage had been caused. Beneath the car was a small stereo system. It had cut through my right tire, which was now flat. I walked to the trunk to get my jack and spare tire. I was shocked to see that it was also flat. Generally I check and recheck everything before a trip.
As I walked back to the front of my car I saw the pickup truck had reloaded what could be salvaged and that the man was getting back into his vehicle. I knew he saw our flat tire, but nevertheless he drove away.
The wife and I sat on the side of the road for several hours waiting for the police. It was almost dark when they finally arrived. The police advised us that there was nothing they could do, other than call a tow truck. We knew we could not afford to pay for such a service.
After the police left we sat in the car wondering what to do.
"HONK, HONK" went the sound of a horn.
When I turned around to see what was happening; there was that same brown van which we had given gas money.
"Well, I see we aren't the only ones having a little bad luck today," said the man, leaning into my window.
"No spare," I told him.
"Well, can't fix the problem sitting there," he said.
He reached over, took my keys out of the ignition, walked to the trunk of the car and took out the jack. I watched him jack up the car and take off the flat. I didn't know what to say and was too embarrassed to tell him that we did not have enough money to buy a new tire and still have enough gas to make it to Georgia.
After he took off the tire he looked at me and said "Go sit in the car and I'll be right back."
I got into the car and watch them drive away.
"How we going to pay them, Dad?"
"I don't know. We'll just pay them for the tire and the repair to the flat."
"What we going to do for gas?"
"I don't know. I just don't know." I said, almost on the verge of screaming.
The van returned an hour later. I got out of the car noticing that both tires were brand new.
"I'm sorry, but I should have told you. I don't have enough money to pay for two tires."
The man said not a word as he placed the tire on the car. He acted as though he did not hear me.
"I'm sorry but I..."
"I heard you the first time," he said.
When the tire was complete he placed the jack and new spare in the trunk and closed it.
"Follow us to the gas station," he ordered, like an army sergeant.
We followed them to the next off ramp and into the gas station. He got out of his van and began filling our tank. When done he walked up to the window and said "I'm hungry, lets eat." I looked at the wife who was now speechless, for the first time in her life.
We followed them to a restaurant several blocks down the road. As we got out of the car I looked at him and said, "Thank you for your help but I cannot accept anymore."
The man said not a word. He turned and walked back to his van. He opened the side door and took out a large wooden chair. Then he opened the passenger side door and out stepped the largest black woman I had ever seen in my life. I swear, the ground almost moved when she walked. The two of them walked up and stopped in front of me. The man, looking at me straight in the eyes, opened the folded chair and then stepped back. The big woman sat down, pointed at me, and said "Johnny tells me I need to spank your little white butt. Is that going to be necessary?"
In total shock, eyes opened wide, I replied "No ma'am," shaking my head vigorously.
"GOOD," she said, giving me a very stern look.
She smiled, got up and walked toward the restaurant, as did the other people in the van. The man walked back to the van and replaced the chair.
It must have been almost ten p.m. when we finally ate. Half way through the meal Johnny excused himself and was gone for more than twenty minutes. When he returned he laid a motel key in front of me.
"I'm sorry but I..."
"MAMA," said Johnny in a harsh tone.
As the large woman started to stand up I motioned for her to sit back down-that a spanking was not necessary.
As we ate Johnny began tapping his spoon against his glass. When everyone quieted down, he raised his water and said, "I would like to make a toast. "This is the way America should be," he said, almost choking on the words he had just spoken.
Everyone took a sip of water and sat there quietly, smiling and nodding their heads to the affirmative.
After eating we all walked to the motel, next door to the restaurant. I shook Johnny's hand and the large woman hugged both me and my wife.
When the wife and I got up the next morning their van was gone. A white envelope was left on our windshield. Written were the words "Thank You and May God Bless." Inside was a twenty dollar bill, folded in the shape of a cross.