Wherever You Go

“You are trying to live a champagne life on a beer budget,” he said to me.

“What does that mean?” He generally spoke straightforward and not in riddles.

“You want what you cannot afford.”

We were in a car lot, and my dad was tired of hearing me say ‘no’ to all the options he had given me for vehicle choices.

“I don’t like any of them.”

The salesperson tried to stay positive, but my dad had mercy on him and said,

“We will be back. We need to figure out what she can have.”

Being the youngest, I was offered something that everyone else ahead of me had to wait for. My parents were worn out from driving kids all over town, so they decided to find a used car for me when I was seventeen to cut themselves free from the responsibility forever. I was the only one left. Having older parents had its advantages; they were more like grandparents when I was in my late teens. What they once had endless energy for, now was no longer a priority.

I ended up being given an older Pontiac Firebird, which halted my searches through car lots. But, I was not spared the long speech.

“If you get a speeding ticket, we will take the car away.” There were more rules stated, but I zoned out. I figured if I did something wrong, they would let me know later. For now, I had my own transportation.

I could not believe that I had hit a taxi. I did not live in a vast metropolis where we had cabs on every corner with people chasing them down, and they were rarely seen on the route I was traveling. The driver slammed his door and seemed angry as he walked to my car.

It was early morning, and I was on my way to high school. I must have been tired from working all weekend and had a momentary too long of a blink. I heard the sound of metal and crunching.

I was already saying I was sorry before I got out of my car. I saw that he had a passenger in the back seat. He crouched down and looked at his bumper and mine. I must have read his initial facial expression wrong because he looked up at me, smiled, and said,

“Are you okay?”

I said I was. Physically, yes, but mentally, no.

“Well, I have no damage. These are built like tanks, and it looks like you have the worst of it.”

Most of the people in my school were driving cars that barely started. I was asked if my family was wealthy because mine was in such great shape. Now, I had put a dent in it.

“Are you sure you are alright? You don’t look like you are,” he said.

This was before cell phones, so I couldn’t just call my dad and have him come to my rescue, and this had never happened to me before.

“I have a special needs student in the back, so I have to get him to school. Can you make it to where you are going? That damage to your car can be easily fixed. You didn’t hit me that hard.”

I believed him, and we parted ways. I had to find a payphone.

“I hit a taxi,” I said, trying not to cry.

“What? You hit a what?” He was a father of six. Wasn’t he supposed to be ready for anything at all times?

“A taxi,” I said with my throat beginning to close.

“How did you do that?”

All the questions! Always.

“I don’t know. It was in front of me at a light, and I hit him!”

He actually started to laugh, so that meant I wasn’t going to get a lecture.

“Just go to school, and I will come look at it.”

He fixed it for me, but after that, I had a slight fear while out driving. Something that had been so automatic now didn’t seem like it. I got over it, and that was the only accident I have ever been in. But, my relationship with cars, dealing with them and their surprises have not been my favorite.

It’s always at the most inconvenient time when a battery dies, something leaks, or there’s a weird sound that starts up. And while getting my oil changed, I have been met by the dire news that some thing-a-ma-jig isn’t doing what it should, so now I have to pay for it without warning.

The most recent was my gas line coming off. I had just had my car in for a service, and the technician did not secure it properly with a clip after flushing that out. I took a turn, and my car died immediately. With my hands still on the wheel, I sat there wondering why I was smelling gasoline. I got out and saw that the full tank of gas I had just put in was spilling all over the ground.

One little broken clip required a tow back to the shop. To say that my patience has been tried is an understatement. With all of our technology, why are we not teleporting at this point?

On a Saturday morning not too long ago, my oldest daughter was getting ready to leave for work. Neither one of us really take the time to speak at that time of day because she is in a hurry, and I don’t want to slow her down. I was reading something, and I heard the garage door go up.

I saw her back out of the driveway, and for some odd reason, I said,

“God, put angels around her car.”

I just had this weird feeling.

Within a minute, my phone was ringing.

“A guy hit me.”

“I am coming,” I said.

She had made it to the corner on our street, so my drive was about 30 seconds. When I pulled up, I started walking straight for my daughter. The other driver came around his truck, blocked me, and said,

“Hi, mom!”

I stepped back from him, inwardly cringed, and said a quick hello. I skirted him, but he followed close behind me, and I wasn’t sure what he was trying to accomplish.

“Are you okay?” I asked her.

“Yes,” she said.

I glanced to my right, and he could not have been standing any closer to me. I backed up again.

“She was turning, and she hit me,” was his claim.

I called the police so a report could be filed.

He acted like we were old acquaintances, and that wasn’t making me feel so comfortable. I tried not to say anything, but the silence got to him.

“Where were you going?” He asked her.

“To work,” she answered.

“Where do you work?” he asked.

She pointed randomly straight ahead.

“That way.”

I raised a smart one.

He was so strange, and I tried to keep moving the two of us away from him. Every time I tried to talk to her alone, he would zoom in between us.

First, he told us he had never been involved in an accident, then went on to say he had some sort of road rage incident. I started to wonder what drugs he was on.

The police officer arrived, took down their information and stories. He looked like we had gotten him out of bed for the day. Before he left, he handed each of them his card and said that a report would be online to give to our insurance companies.

I told her to get into her car and roll the window down, which was the only moment she and I had together alone.

“Are you sure you are okay?”

“Yes,” she said again.

I looked over, and he was behind his wheel, staring at us.

Her car was driveable, so she took off. I made sure he went in the opposite direction. I wanted to go home and hose myself down after being in the presence of that man.

The police report was posted within a day, and officer Barney Fife stated that my bright orange vehicle was involved in the accident, not her very white one. He had glanced at the insurance card, where both cars were listed, and wrote in mine. It was no surprise that he also hadn’t listened to her account and messed that up as well.

After that was corrected and her car was repaired by paying the deductible, it became a ‘he said, she said’ case. He claimed she swerved into his left turn lane while she took a right. And she said he hit her in her lane. The whole thing, I was told, wasn’t going to go anywhere and would be a waste of time, especially because of the botched police report.

So what do you do when you know you have been wronged? You have to give it to God and count the things that worked in your favor. She didn’t get hurt, the car was fixed quickly, my insurance lady helped me on a Saturday because we are good friends, and we never have to see that guy again. I hope.

And, I was grateful for the angels that acted on her behalf when I asked for them to come, just like Psalm 91 says:

He orders his angels to guard you wherever you go. (Message)

Turkey for Two

The Sunday paper was lying in a heap on the kitchen table. As usual, it was Monday, and I was finally getting around to reading a few of the ads. Most of the inserts spoke of doorbuster sales, but I wasn’t thinking of finding Christmas gifts early.  Instead, I needed two turkeys for Thanksgiving. As I paged through the various catalogs of information, I wondered what had happened to this holiday? It seemed like we no sooner had Halloween and all its uproar with candy scarfing then we hurtled full speed ahead to boughs of holly and mad dashes to find the perfect gift. What had happened to the cranberries, the stuffing, the giving thanks and a day of digesting one of the best meals of the year?

I located the grocery store ad in hopes of finding a buy one get one on frozen turkeys. In years past, this had been offered, but it became apparent that our economy had taken a hit as I could not find a deal on any turkey. I thought maybe the week before Thanksgiving this would surely be an offering.  No such luck.

The reason for buying two birds was not so I could eat them both, but my intention was to give one to a good friend of mine who had just gone through a divorce just like I had. He was going to be cooking a meal for his kids for the first time as a single man. I guess I was trying to take away some of the stress by helping him along in the kitchen by giving him the main dish to which he could easily add in the sides. I was not at the height of having an abundance of money, but I knew I was to help him out this way.

I put the paper aside, and I made the decision that I would go out and buy each of us a turkey the next day. In the meantime, I had to take my youngest daughter to her dance class. While driving, I mulled over the predicament. I knew exactly to the penny what I had in my checking account and back in those days, a savings account didn’t exist. I was never one for using a credit card to buy my food, so I knew I was going to have to just fight off the fear of lack and do it anyway.

After I dropped her off at her class, I sat in my car and said a quick prayer asking for help in apprehending two turkeys for our meals. It wasn’t anything fancy. Just a quick shout out to heaven with a simple thank you. Then, I put it out of my mind and got out a book to read while I waited.

When I got home, I saw the ad laying on the table where I had left it.  I felt a slight twinge of disappointment because I really wanted to give him a turkey, but I didn’t know how I was going to afford two of them plus all the rest of my meal.  I walked out to the mailbox, and as I shuffled through the usual bills, a bright red postcard surfaced.  Written in fancy font it read:

Your name has been submitted to receive a free Thanksgiving basket.  Please come to the address listed below on Wednesday to pick up your items. Thank you.  

I could not believe it!  Just moments ago I was worrying over how I was going to give away a turkey that I didn’t have to pay for and now I was going to be able to give away an entire meal!   Not even for a moment did I consider keeping this gift for myself.  I wanted to give it away to a person who was going through a hard time of adjusting to a new way of living.  I was so overjoyed that I barely heard the phone ringing when I came back into the house.

“Hello?” I said.

“Is this Christine?”

“Yes, it is.”

“Christine, I am calling because someone gave us your name to receive a Thanksgiving basket.  I am calling to see if you would like one. Our church gave away baskets over the weekend, and we are now trying to find homes for the ones that are leftover.  We sure would appreciate it if you would take one.”

“I just got a postcard in the mail that I am to pick up a basket this Wednesday.  Is this from your church?”

“No.  We didn’t send out postcards.  And, our delivery happened over the weekend.  So, what we have are baskets that didn’t find homes in need of them.  Would you like one?”

It was one of those moments when my mouth hung open on its own accord, and I lost my ability to speak for a few seconds.

“Sure.  I would love one,” I said.

“If you could come and pick this up before Wednesday, that would work out great.”

I assured her that I would.

On Wednesday, I stood in my kitchen with two overflowing baskets both containing two large turkeys, stuffing mix, cranberries, canned vegetables, fresh potatoes and all the staples every well stocked pantry could afford such as flour, sugar, butter and even a gallon of milk!

As we approach this time of the year once again, I am reminded of how I had no need to worry about any of the details.  I had asked for help, and the divine had come to my rescue.  Even before I had prayed, heaven had made a way for turkey for two.

twoturkeys

Common Cents

It had been a long afternoon discussing my options with the realtor. I was considering relocating to a townhouse, and we had spent a few hours going over finances that seemed like a game of Monopoly.  Numbers ran around in my head as I tried to figure on paper how all of it was going to work out in my favor.  After we parted, I had to run an errand, and I discovered that my gas tank was in need of fuel. I began the process of trying to decide which station to go to since there is not a shortage of choices in my neighborhood.  I had to make up my mind quickly, however, because the orange ‘out of gas’ light was shining brightly.  Not wanting  to drive down to my last fume, I turned on my blinker and abruptly made a right turn into a place that I generally didn’t frequent.

After pumping my car to full, I decided to reward myself with a cappuccino.  Even though it was the dead middle of summer with August temperatures soaring into the 90s, the frothy warm substance in a cup sounded inviting.   The addiction was in the beginning stages and there was just no fighting it.  On my way in, a man in a dirty white shirt opened the door for me.

“Thank you,” I said.

His brown eyes matched his long single braid that went down the entire length of his back.  I headed straight for the cappuccino machine to contemplate which size coffee I deserved after enduring all that talk of money.  I went about my customary tasks including a walk to the ice machine to fill up my empty cup because I didn’t want to wait for my drink to cool down on its own.  During all of this, my thoughts were on my meeting earlier and how much I could afford to spend to live in a new place.  As I held my ice filled cup under the vanilla hazelnut version of my affection,  I overheard,

“I need a quarter for that.”  There was a long pause without any response that I could hear.  Followed by the same woman saying,

“You cannot have a cup of ice water without giving me a quarter.”

I put the lid on my purchase and walked to the front of the store.  There I saw the man who had held the door for me being confronted by the cashier.

Now that I was behind him, I noticed the softness of his voice.

“I need a cup of water.”

“You can have water in the fountain over there,” she said pointing in the direction of the bathrooms.  I saw him drop his head.

I took better notice of him.  Filthy fingernails, unclean pants, worn shoes.

“It is so hot outside. I would like to take a cup of ice water with me.”

“Then give me a quarter,” she snapped.  She looked at me and rolled her eyes as if she assumed I was on her side against him.

“I don’t have a quarter,” he said again almost inaudibly.   I noticed the extra change sitting right by her register but she made no move to offer him any.

“Then go get a drink at the fountain!”

I don’t know what bothered me more.  Was it her callous nature or his down and out posture?  Just to make sure we all knew what side I was on, I said,

“Here.  I know I must have an extra quarter in here somewhere.”   I put down my cup and jostled around in my purse and unearthed my last quarter.

He looked me straight in the eye and quietly said,

“Thank you,” with a vibrant smile.  Such a small amount had brought him relief, and he asked me for nothing more.

Once he was out of the range of our conversation, I said to her,

“Does he get a straw too? Or will that cost extra?” I am not sure if she picked up on the angry undertone to my question, but I was checking to be sure she wouldn’t accuse him of stealing next.

As she rang up my coffee, and he was headed for the exit, he raised his cup to me with a word of thanks.  I smiled and told him to keep himself cool in the heat.

“He could have gotten a drink at the fountain for free,” she snapped.

“But, he wouldn’t have been able to take it with him.  It is hot out there today. ” I gave her a great chance to examine her approach to life.   She gave me a curt and customary thanks for my patronage and turned her back to me.

I guess I was dismissed.

I got into my car and turned on the air conditioning full blast as I sipped on my hot beverage.  A surge of gratitude hit at that minute while I sat in the parking lot.  I had drove in moments before, fretting over my financial situation and thinking how poverty stricken my life seemed, and now with great clarity I could see how well taken care of I was.  I wasn’t wandering the streets looking for a cup of ice water and not able to buy it for a quarter.  I had a bed to sleep in, a bathroom, clean clothes, a bank account with money and the ability to transport myself all over town.  My point of view of myself had changed rapidly.

I was left to wonder why the lady behind the counter was so hard hearted. Did she have to deal with this all the time during her shift and she had lost her compassion?  No one must have ever let her in on a small but powerful secret:  A generous person will prosper, whoever refreshes others will be refreshed.

It is never a mistake to help those who genuinely need it. It puts life into better perspective, and makes one grateful for every possession great and small.   All of that just adds up to good common cents.  (yes, I know how to really spell it)

coin