79: The Totaled Car and the Total Stranger

79: The Totaled Car and the Total Stranger

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Random Acts of Kindness

The Totaled Car and the Total Stranger

Reflect upon your present blessings — of which every man has many — not on your past misfortunes, of which all men have some.

~Charles Dickens

We were on our way! In Wyoming we would have a new home, a new job, and a new adventure. It was 1980 and my husband Gary and I were driving from Houston, Texas to Gillette, Wyoming with our three young boys, who were ages five, three, and one. Since we had a few extra days before we had to arrive at our final destination, we first drove to my husband’s childhood home in Minnesota.

After a few days of rest and relaxation, we were back on the road. We drove due west toward Wyoming. It was October; the roads were clear, and the fall weather was fantastic.

We had been driving all day and we were all hungry. We stopped at a restaurant to eat dinner and when we came out I put all three boys in the back of our station wagon so they could sleep. There were no strict laws about seatbelts then. It was nine o’clock in the evening.

Gary got into the driver’s seat, set the cruise control, and was planning to drive the last few hundred miles that night. Then our vehicle hit ice on a bridge about thirty miles east of Rapid City, South Dakota. As soon as the car started to slide my husband touched the brakes to turn off the cruise control and this sent our vehicle into a spin. Our car immediately careened from one side of the bridge to the other. After the initial impact we lost our power steering. Gary was not able to control the car at all. We were thrown back and forth against the guardrail like a bruised and beaten fighter in a boxing ring.

We slid to a stop on the median between the eastbound and westbound lanes. It appeared that everyone was okay, although quite shaken and scared. We climbed out of our car to survey the damage and discovered that we would need to be towed.

Only minutes later, a car pulled up and a man climbed out to ask how he might help. It was cold now, and he suggested that I get in his car with the children. He had a little snack for the boys.

With the help of our Good Samaritan, my husband was able to get a tow truck to come and take our car to Rapid City. After it was gone, this compassionate man drove us to a hotel in the city. On the drive we discovered that he was a salesman, and on the road a great deal. He had been traveling east, but turned around to help us. He took us thirty minutes out of his way, and made sure we were safely deposited in a hotel room before he said goodnight and left.

The next morning Gary and I woke up wondering how we were going to get breakfast and more importantly, a rental car to get us to Gillette. Then there was a knock at our door, and we discovered the salesman had returned to make sure we got breakfast and had a way to get around town. He drove Gary to find our totaled car so that he could remove our valuables. Then he took him to rent a car.

Once we had a rental car our family was ready to finish our journey. Our bighearted benefactor wished us well, said goodbye, and was on his way east again. He had lost at least half a day of work and put some extra miles on his car, all for a family he had never met and would never see again.

Our bedraggled family arrived in Gillette with no car and none of our household goods. We were in a new, strange area where we had no family or friends. We were feeling a little forlorn, but I immediately bowed my head to thank heaven from my heart for the guardrail on that bridge and for the amazing stranger whose sacrifice and service made such a difference to our family.

~Gail H. Johnsen

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