Tuesday, October 1, 2013

We Can Rely upon the Kindness of Strangers

My husband and I followed our Garmin to a gluten-free, nut-free, dairy-free bakery advertised in the St. Charles (Missouri) Summer 2013 Visitor’s Guide, available at hotels and the Visitor’s Center on historic Main Street. Our last stop before leaving for home, we planned to carry out a few sweet treats to enjoy for breakfast the next day, but alas, the storefront was empty. A neighboring business owner reported the bakery had closed its doors 90 days before, long after the guide was laid out, published and distributed.

We weren’t at all unhappy. The storefront was on one of just a few commercial blocks in a planned community within the purview of St. Charles. New Town of St. Charles, MO came to be about a decade ago and its online presence suggests it may be complete in twelve to fifteen years. 

What we saw was an extensive community where residents ride bicycles to those commercial blocks or farms where locally grown plants and foods are available. Many of the homes resemble fine, old farm houses, some are in the gingerbread Victorian vein, and several are town homes. Few had much land front or back, and many had no attached or unattached garage, leaving cars parked curbside. Nevertheless, the community charms. I can imagine residents inviting me inside for a glass of lemonade and freshly baked cookies. 

As we left New Town, we tried to find a farm we’d seen by the highway, but the roads didn’t run neatly north, south, east and west. There were short runs at a 45-degree angle followed by curves cutting through hybrid corn fields that blocked our view. Soon we were lost, about to reprogram the GPS when the engine died. Having just experienced a complete loss of power in our van, we tried not to panic and soon realized we’d forgotten to buy fuel when the electronic warning told us to do so.

"Sunshine on a Stem," Al Griffin Photography

We groaned, then prepared to wait for AAA, a great gift to ourselves, one that has always paid off handsomely for us. AAA plucked my husband from the dark on a busy interstate and towed the van to a reputable repair garage--at least according to the tow truck driver and Google. We lowered the electric windows to enjoy an absolutely perfect day when billowy bright clouds float high in a clear, blue sky. The temperature held in the high 70s, and a fine breeze rustled through the corn and into the windows of our car.

But we had no time to summon AAA. Several cars stopped to help my husband push the car as far off the road as reasonable, passengers in those cars offered help, and one knew exactly where the nearest Coop set, the closest place to buy fuel.

“They’re so nice,” she said. “They’ll let you borrow a gas can. I can run you up there and bring you back.”

We didn’t hesitate. She had a friendly dog with her and an even friendlier manner. She left with my husband in the shotgun seat.

While alone in the car, several more cars and lots of pickup trucks paused to ask if I needed help. One woman offered to give me her name and phone number in case someone frightened me or tried to harm me. I declined, telling her I could call 9-1-1 but stressing how much I appreciated her thoughtfulness and concern.

And that’s the lesson here. Sometimes when we lose our way in strange lands, we find we’re not alone at all. People step forward to give what they can according to their talents.

"Waning Days of Summer" Al Griffin Photography

Several pickups did not stop, but every one of those was driven by a single male and a few had company logos on the door. I believe those drivers realized that a woman alone may not appreciate an offer of help from a lone guy and those employees probably recognized that their employers might object if they stopped to help me. I didn’t resent their choices; they seem good ones to me.

Having read Flannery O’Connor’s short story, “A Good Man Is Hard to Find” I know that older gals can come to harm when they meet strangers on side roads so I waited, safe in the knowledge that most people look out for each other, that we’d only made a wrong turn, nothing more sinister. The kind-hearted woman brought my husband back with gasoline and told us how to get back to that farm where we bought delicious homegrown tomatoes and apples. We’ve enjoyed them all week, and with each bite, I smile.