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Has a stranger in another city or country ever shown you a kindness? This was the question on NPR today. It didn’t take me long to come up with an instance. I’m sure there are more, but this is a favorite.

My husband, two small granddaughters, daughter-in-law, and I were cutting it close. My niece’s reception dinner somewhere in the wilds of Texas back roads was starting five minutes ago. We spied a country bar and pulled our purple rental car over. A patron staggered out. Jerry rolled down the window and asked where the VFW Hall was. The short, boney man straightened his posture and his Stetson. Strenuous effort to widen his eyes seemed to signal his body to slump. He held onto the car and puffed his chest out, widening his eyes again.

“Yessir, be glad to help you.”

His face rearranged itself into a wide smile, deepening the lines in his ruddy cheeks. He pointed first one way, then the other, finally settling on a direction.

“Go straight on down the road a piece till you see the Lone Star sign, take a right—no left—cross over the railroad tracks, go about five more miles down the dirt road to your left and it’ll be on your right.”

“Much obliged,” my husband said with a smile. He’d learned Texas lingo years ago.

We pulled out of the bar parking lot and Jerry immediately turned right.

“What are you doing?” I said.

Jerry made a quick left into the parking lot across the street from the bar, into the crowded VFW parking lot.

My daughter-in-law loves to tell people that Texans really are friendly and helpful—even when they have no idea what they are talking about.

Have you been shown kindness from a stranger while on vacation or just away from home? I’d love to hear about it.

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This was not the first time I had roamed a parking lot seized with fear that my missing car was stolen, but not for over half an hour. I called my son Jason.

“Why are you calling me? If your car is stolen you should be calling the police. WAIT! Are you sure where you left it?”

“Yes, in front of World Market, pulled all the way through so I wouldn’t have to back out—just as AARP Safety Course teaches. After I left there I walked to Marshall’s, Ross, Sally’s, and SteinMart.”

“Are you sure it’s not there? Go look again and call me back. I’m on my way.”

I had scanned every car in front of World Market twice and none were mine, but I looked again. My stomach growled. Nothing since a 250 calorie breakfast and it was going on six o’clock. I gnawed open the pack of cheese sticks from SteinMart as I made the rounds again. My fingers turned yellow.

I went back in the store and asked for the manager. He had heard of no car thefts in that shopping center, but he called Sanford P.O.’s non-emergency line for me. Handed me his phone. They want a description, make, color etc. I relayed all that, telling them to look for the big “Who are you calling a Sea Cow?” manatee sticker on the back windshield. There are scads of gold Hyundai Santa Fe SUVs in the area. She wanted to know if I’m behind on my payments. Told me it may have been repossessed. No! Paid for long ago. Then she asks for my license number. I dug it out knowing I’m in trouble. In normal circumstances I get Alphabet Tourette’s Syndrome, but with my car being in who knows what chop shop the affliction threatened to hit double time. Thank God I had no Fs, Ps or Ss in my tag number.

“We are sending a patrol car over.”

The next call is from a male officer. “What are you wearing?” In my agitated state, it took a minute to realize he only wanted to recognize me.

“ORANGE, a bright orange sweater!” There must have been a reason I pulled out a top I haven’t worn in a year from of a drawer this afternoon. Maybe I was grasping for comfort, but maybe someone was looking out for me. It gets a little woo woo here, but I swear I thought of how perfect orange would be to identify me that morning while slipping it on, but flicked that thought aside.

I stood out front with the setting sun angled right in my face. Sweat beaded on my upper lip. A patrol car pulled in front—and whizzed right by me! Then another pulled to the curb, stopped, and rolled his window down a tad, teasing me with a small stream of cool air while he asked all the same questions. He said they had four patrol cars looking for my car. FOUR! That must mean there had been problems around there. He finally offered to let me get in and ride around with him to look for it. I slid onto the cool, vinyl seat and directed the cold air vent to my face.

“Where did you go first after leaving World Market?”

“Marshall’s.”

“And you didn’t drive down there?”

“No,” I pointed to my fitness band, “I was trying to get steps in for today.”

We had driven down only two rows when his police radio crackled. A woman’s voice said, “I found it.”

“She found it? And the thief? Where?” I hoped it hadn’t been wrecked or used in a crime and impounded. He cut his eyes at me.

He drove a little farther and stopped in front of Marshall’s near another patrol car. To our left was my stolen car.

“I’m so embarrassed—but happy—but embarrassed.” I stammered as I got jumped out of his car clutching my keys.

What was I to do but play the elderly card? I was so certain I hadn’t moved my car hoping to get in more steps today. Well, I did get a mile and a half in at that shopping center. He and the lady cop were very gracious, but were definitely stiffling a snicker.

A big shoutout to Sanford, Florida’s courteous, helpful police force, but I hope to never see them again. There is something to be said for traveling by Uber.

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Should I go or should I stay? Powerful Cat 5 Hurricane Irma was headed for Florida. All of Florida. No small one was this. If I stayed, the fifty year old Laurel oak might fall across the house, crushing my bed first and then the central bathroom where my son Jason and I would hunker down. If I chose go it would be to my son’s gun shop. Sturdy block building with no large trees as far as the eye could see, only acres of field across the street. It had a sturdy, enclosed stairwell and interior rooms under the stairs and was pet friendly. As much as I hated to pack up and leave, the choice was clear.

 

Curfew was Sunday, September 10, 7:00 p.m. to 6:00 p.m. Monday. Twenty-three hours. My son said the shop’s power had never gone out in a storm, so we would have small fridge, air conditioning, microwave, lights, TV and room for his Bichon Frise Bolt and my Persian mix Emma to roam. What a set up.

 

Emma immediately found a hiding spot. She would find two more before the ordeal was over, each more difficult to find than the last, each taking a toll on my knees. Bolt was used to hanging out at the shop, so was right at home.

 

We realized one negative to our safe spot going in; thieves frequently braved hurricanes to rob one type business—gun shops. But we had a good security system, electricity to power it, with battery backup.  Also, more than a few guns. As a matter of fact, I even brought my personal S&W. I never sleep without it. Coals to Newcastle, you might think, but safety depends on being comfortable with your weapon in an emergency. Let’s just say, my son was well armed, too.

 

Without the usual sound of exploding transformer or flicker warning, the power went out like fingers dousing a candle wick about 10:00 p.m. Irma continued her wobbly two-step across the state, defying predictions and veering east, with the dirty side of the eye now headed for Orlando. We had plenty of flashlights, battery radios and continued following the approaching storm until the wee hours, Jason in his recliner, me on the leather love seat.

 

“What’s that red light on the box on the wall?” It was straight above my toes.

 

Jason didn’t have to turn around. “It tells me the backup battery is not working on the security system.”

 

“A gang of six have broken into Academy Sports and stole guns,” the radio’s timing was uncanny. Shortly they reported an independent gun shop in Daytona was robbed. All six thugs at Academy had been arrested, but not the latest bunch.

 

Wait a minute! Why did I turn down an offer from a dear Facebook friend to be picked up the day before the storm and whisked out of Florida in a Phenom 300 private jet? I don’t remember ever being as touched by a genuine gesture. With wind whistling outside, shaking the building, and water creeping in at the edges of the carpet, I wondered if I was also touched in the head. No. Decision made. Live with it, the operative word being live.

 

Out front the field looked like blowing ocean waves, an ocean that came right up to our front door. Jason tried to open the back, steel door at one point to check on the storm. With video I recorded his struggle to open it a foot and hold it open a few minutes. If you’ve seen weather guys taking a beating in the storm you know what it looked and sounded like. Wind showing its power against the door, rain pellets spraying his face. Grunting. Sorry, I had to laugh.

 

We weren’t very sleepy, though it was after midnight. As a matter of fact, we slept only one hour that night, from about 2:30 to 3:30 a.m. We woke to more banging outside as wind whipped small twigs and branches against the building, and vibrated it more than a few times. The radio hosts were sounding jovial and relaxed as if the worst of the storm had passed. It had where they were, and was exiting our area. We had slept through it.

 

Energy levels shot up and hunger chimed in. At 4:00 in the morning I peeled and ate a boiled egg and had a smoothie. Most delicious dinner/breakfast combination ever.

 

Jason fell back asleep near dawn and I tried, but all I wanted to do was check on my home. No way were we waiting until 6:00 p.m. We didn’t have to, the curfew was lifted at 11:00 a.m. A few more winks for Jason and too much time packing up and finding Emma and we pulled out onto a clear, wind dried road about 2:00 p.m. Grass in the field across the street blew in waves.

 

In the fourth grade, I rounded the corner after school to find my house burned to the ground. The feeling I got then returned as we crept into the neighborhood. No damage from the front. A quick survey showed none from the back. We’d have to run the generator for five days, but our window AC would cool us, and food would be safe in the fridge. We could even run the TV and a few lights. The air smelled of fresh cut wood and the earth after a summer shower. Neighbors all down the streets were already stacking mounds of limbs and sawn logs along the curb. In a few days our lawn boy would have ours cleared and mowed. Like it never even happened. But it had, and like all the other storms we survived in 41 years, we learned more lessons, sharpened our survival skills and would be even more ready for the next one. And there would be a next one. It’s the price of living in paradise.

 

 

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