I did not grow up fancy.
My parents were high school sweethearts in a tiny rural town. My dad worked for his dad, and took over Granddad’s natural gas well business when he died. My parents were both 24 years old when that happened.
By then they had two kids. By the time they were thirty they had another. They went from living in a trailer to living in an old farmhouse that they eventually gutted and had remodeled from basement to attic.
They worked hard – my dad was always up and out of the house before dawn, and came home at six for dinner. Mom spent time with Grandma in the office, doing billing and payroll and collecting time sheets. I went to sleep every night smelling cigarette smoke as Dad made work calls.
My childhood was spent in this tiny rural life, walking across a muddy yard to be thrown in the back of the pickup as Dad hauled dirt, or tree branches, or rotten apples that had fallen from the trees in the backyard. We spent Sundays driving our red station wagon along country roads to check gas well sites. My brother and I played in the creek just below our house and watched the hole being dug for our swimming pool.
Our family all lived nearby. My parents knew everyone, and they knew us. The people we knew didn’t vary, and we rarely saw a stranger.
We saw strangers when we went to the city, a rare occasion that warranted dressing up and eating out and seeing a show where performers sang and danced and we sat in velvet seats and ate candy from a box during intermission while my parents drank small drinks with little straws. I felt fancy then.
We would drive an hour away from our small rural life to this glittering place where all sorts of strangers milled around us, people we didn’t see because we were rural people who only saw lights and big buildings and a place where a young man would take the keys to your car and park it for you.
I was all dressed up and riding in the back back of our red station wagon on one occasion. My mom and dad and brother were out of the car already when the keys were handed over to the valet. I was pretty little, and navigating the jump seat was more difficult when wearing a dress and trying to keep your underwear hidden.
The car took off, and I remember falling out of the car but not on the ground.
There was a stranger.
He was a black man, the first one I remember seeing that was not on television. In my memory he was scruffy and grey-haired and smelled like old cigarettes and musty clothes that needed washing. As his strong arms held me, I heard him yelling “THE BABY! THE BABY!” The car stopped suddenly, and he continued to admonish the young valet who by now was out of the car, getting a tongue-lashing from this angel. “YOU COULD HAVE KILLED THIS BABY!”
As my mom and dad ran to collect me and several sickened apologies from the valet, the stranger hugged me tight and patted my head to make sure I was okay before he handed me over and chatted with my parents, all dressed up but not so fancy people who were just out with their young family to see a show. My dad shook his hand and my parents thanked him for saving me.
To this day I thank him, too.
To this day I thank him, too.
This post inspired by:
Prompt #5: A time a stranger helped you.