This is the story of turtles and flat tires. Of warm blankets and car windows that won’t go up. Of zinnias, trash bins, pecan pies, crowded parking lots, and a little plastic toy by the name of Bab-eo.
This is the story of giving thanks for the little things in life. The small kindnesses that don’t move the ground beneath our feet or change our lives in momentous ways but all the same, warm our souls, remind us of the goodness that still exists among us oft-beleaguered human beings.
Allow me to begin with a place called Frank’s Discount Tire on Bluff Road.
I wended my way there the other day. Not because my tires were bad but because I wanted to thank somebody for something they had done for two people I love a lot.
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They had fixed my brother and sister-in-law’s flat tire for free. Not because Fitz and Jill were in financial straits, but because they were headed home after several days from Columbia to the coast to face whatever wrath Hurricane Matthew had dealt their home and they had two dogs in the car with them – one, an old, old girl who had not taken well to all the upset.
And then they got a flat tire not 10 miles down the road and found themselves at Frank’s. Insult added to injury. An addled old dog. You get the picture.
And that’s when the tire got fixed at Frank’s. For free.
So, I went there. Two guys were standing behind the counter. Moe Roberts and Charlie Coffee. Moe recalled my brother and his wife when I mentioned Sugar, the aging golden Lab.
“Oh yeah,” he said, “I remember the dog.”
“Why did you fix my brother’s tire for free?” I asked. “It was such a nice thing to do, but why did you do it?”
Charlie went first: “Well, you’re up here in Columbia worrying about your house and you’re headed back to who knows what and you get a flat tire…”
Moe chimed in. “We just figured we’d take one problem off their shoulders, make things a little easier.”
And so they did.
These sorts of small kindnesses happen more often than any of us are aware of, but if we were aware of them, we might smile, we might feel better about the cattywampus world we live in.
And we might even want to thank someone for whatever it was that made things, in the words of Moe, “a little easier.”
And so, we invited readers to share their “thank you” notes, as a celebration of Thanksgiving.
A ‘treacherous’ parking lot and the traffic director
“Dear Sweet Lady, I don’t know your name and you don’t know mine, but I’ll never forget your kindness. It was a couple of days before Christmas, about 1970. While preparing dinner for my visiting parents, I realized I needed some things from the store so I rushed to buy them. It was dark by the time I got back to my car, and it had begun raining as well. The huge parking lot was nearly full so it was treacherous getting out of my parking space. Suddenly, to my surprise, traffic stopped. I craned my neck to see why, and there you were. You appeared to be around 50 or so, an African-American lady who was kind enough to direct traffic in the rain so this young mother could get out and back to her family. It made my Christmas and I still count it among my most treasured memories. Thank you so much.” – Mary Knox
A ‘back country road’ and an ‘old car broke down’
“I was on a first date with a young lady and we went to a dance at Francis Marion College in Florence. After the dance, as we started to head back to Lake City, my old car broke down. We had no phone, it was 1 a.m. in the morning and we were on a backcountry road with no houses in sight. It was very cold and we started to walk. A few cars passed us and after walking a while, a black man stopped to see if he could help us. I explained about my broken-down car and he told us to get in and he would take us to Lake City. (It was 30 miles out of the way and he was going home from work.) He was an angel who appeared out of nowhere. He took us to my front door and would not take any money. He was so kind – it did not matter to him that we were white – all he wanted to do was be kind to a stranger. My wife, Pat, and I will never forget his kindness.” – Shay Rollins
The ‘once-a-year’ pecan pie
“Each year, our friend Donna Privette makes me a pecan pie. I don’t expect it, so sometimes I forget it is coming, but then she shows up at our door, pie in hand. It’s a once-a-year thing because Donna is the only person who makes me a pecan pie.” – Hayes Mizell
Flexibility and ‘a forever friend’
“A friend knew I was about to host a family gathering which I looked forward to but which would require all my patience and tact. She gave me a little guy – Gumby – to remind me about the importance of flexibility. He has become a forever friend.” – Lee Robinson
A ‘dozen red roses’
“On my first Valentine’s Day as a single mom, my friend Claudia brought me a dozen red roses and wrote me a beautiful note. It meant a lot to me.” – Nicole Massey
A chilly hospital waiting room and ‘a warm blanket’
“While I was in a hospital waiting room waiting to have a test done, I had a very special experience. The room was kept cool … I had on a short sleeve blouse and kept holding my arms and rubbing my arms to try to get a little circulation going and get myself a little warmer … I might add that I am elderly and also use a walking cane. After a while of my obviously being uncomfortable and very cold, a man – or should I say a gentleman or truly a gentle man – got up and went to the desk and got one of the hospital staff to bring me a warm blanket. His thoughtfulness warmed my cold arms, and more than that, warmed my heart. He and his wife had been watching me and knew I was cold … My husband’s grandfather always ended his blessings with, ‘And make us ever mindful of the needs of others.’ This couple I did not know was certainly mindful of my need and showed special kindness to me … There are many angels around us in human form. Thank you, thoughtful strangers.” – May Best
An injured turtle and ‘everyone helped’
“I was in my car and I saw a turtle in the road. I looked at it and it was injured. I got out of my car and several strangers stopped too. We were all from different backgrounds but we all cared. We wanted to help this turtle out. I got a towel and one of the guys got a plastic milk carrier. Everyone helped. It was great. We all worked together and saved the turtle. It touched my heart.” – Vaughn Madden (Postscript – Vaughn took the turtle to a Columbia wildlife rescue facility where it was determined that the turtle’s injury was an old one and he was OK. He was released back into the wild.)
A ‘garden patch of zinnias’
“Dear Mama in Heaven, From my heart, thank you for planting that garden patch of zinnias at the end of the driveway. Then telling Aunt Frances in front of me, ‘I did that so my little girls can pick flowers.’ It meant so much to me. I have treasured that you did that for me all of my life. And I did that for my daughters. With love, your flower child.” – Kay McCrary
A broken car window and ‘an angel’ named Alex
“We were driving to Charleston from New Jersey on I-95 in October when we went through a toll booth and our window broke. It wouldn’t go up or down and it seemed to have fallen off the track. The weather was chilly. I had recently had terrible allergies and we had our little 2-year-old in the back getting smothered by all the wind coming his way. We pulled over at an exit to inspect and see if we could fix the window. Jared tried and tried and tried. No luck. The window was broken and we were about to drive 10 hours with a busted window …We were about to get back in the car when a soft-spoken man seemed to come out of nowhere and he said, ‘Do you mind if I look at the window? I’m Alex by the way.’ We introduced ourselves and he asked us where we were from. We told him Charleston and he said he was from Guatemala but was now living in Baltimore. Alex told us he was studying automotive work in school. He quietly took apart our door and then turned to another gentleman who was nearby. Alex informed us that they were friends and that they had just come from the junkyard. Alex borrowed a screw driver from him. He then went to his car and retrieved a bolt after telling us a bolt had fallen off the carriage which was causing the window to fall off the track. Alex said it just needed to be secured. He quickly fastened the bolt, put the door back together and tested to make sure the window worked. Perfect! It went up and down. No troubles …We offered to buy his gas. He declined…We tried to give him money. He declined and said, ‘No, that’s OK. Just be safe driving.’ And that was it. It was probably one of the kindest things a stranger has ever done for us … It’s the moments like that where you remember there is still a whole lot of good in this world…Alex really seemed like an angel to us.” – Jess Zieche
‘I never asked him to do it…’
“I am thankful for my neighbor George Phillips. When I became a single mother with two young children in October of 2011, he started returning my trashcan and recycling bin back to the house from the curb every Friday after the trucks came by. As a teacher, Friday afternoons can sometimes be the highest point of exhaustion, but every time I pulled in my driveway on Friday, he had already taken care of this weekly task for me. He didn’t stop until this past June when I told him my kids were old enough to take over. He didn’t miss a Friday over a span of about five years. I never asked him to do it; he just did it. I can’t ever thank him enough for something that perhaps seems small to some, but made such a huge difference to me … George and his wife, Carolyn, have done more than I could ever list in a note, but I want them to know that they are models of what it means to be good neighbors and I will be forever grateful.” – Stephanie Huckabee
Algebra and a ‘consistently kind’ tutor
“During my high school years, I struggled with Algebra. I was lost and too introverted to ask for help. As my test grades descended, I saw a notice from a classmate offering tutoring service. Diane was an honor roll student, a trumpet player in the school band and a class officer, successful in every aspect of her life. I contacted her. Almost immediately, she cleared up my confusion with Algebra and faithfully followed up every week, every test, to make sure I kept up … I finished Algebra with success and, more importantly, resurrected my low self-esteem. I’ve thought of her with affection many times. I have since learned she became a dedicated school teacher who has now retired. Thanks, Diane, for lifting so many lives.” – Ruth Varner
‘So thank God and Riverbanks Zoo’
“This thank-you might sound silly, but to me it is something I won’t forget. In 2015, I was going through a hard time with my family. My dad was in the hospital facing an operation. To get away from the hospital for a while, my brother-in-law, nieces and I went to Riverbanks Zoo. When we handed in our tickets to enter, I noticed a row of little green Halloween toys. The man said they were free if I wanted one. I said, ‘Sure.’ I took the toy around the zoo with me, not realizing a very significant feature. When my dad was entering the hospital, he was holding his stomach, just as the toy is holding his …The toy made me feel more connected to my dad when I was not at the hospital with him. Over one year later, I still have the toy, named Bab-eo, and my hardship is better now. So thank God and Riverbanks Zoo.” – Donna Sharpe
‘A blessing to my husband and me’
“I would like to thank my ex daughter-in-law, Javan, for being a blessing to my husband and me by acting as a surrogate daughter since my son’s death and by keeping our granddaughter in our lives.” – Christie Addy
‘Good deeds’ and ‘reaping the fruits’
“My husband spent his life doing good deeds for countless people, but he never talked about them. Since his death, I am told of so many of these good deeds that I never knew he had done. I feel I am reaping the fruits of his thoughtfulness. I have such wonderful neighbors watching out for me daily. Bill and Brian King across the street take my recycle and trash containers to the street every week and then put them back after they have been emptied. Floyd and Pat Pringle watch out for me all the time. When the power goes out, they immediately check on me. They have called at night and asked me to close my garage door so they can go to bed. Will, another neighbor across the street, watches out for me when I take my dog out late at night. These good deeds make me feel so safe and secure. I thank God daily for wonderful neighbors and good deeds.” – Mary Salter
Blessings from a ‘precious daughter-in-law’
“Our son and daughter-in-law were married just as both of my parents were entering the final few years of their lives. Our precious daughter-in-law jumped right into our family and we soon caught her in the midst of several loving acts of kindness. Daddy was very ill and in the hospital. She took a turn watching over him, even changing his diaper when nurses were unavailable. What a selfless thing to do for his comfort. Then, a year or so later, we had to put Mother into assisted living. When I dropped by one afternoon, our daughter-in-law was sitting with Mother, writing little notes to Mother’s friends, notifying them of her new living arrangements. So thoughtful. We are very blessed to have JoAnna Nichols Plunkett as part of our family.” – Trish Plunkett
‘Software issues’ and a ‘compassionate young man’
“I wanted to challenge myself at work before I retired, so I could look back one day and say I had met my challenge and succeeded. I stepped down from a nice office and title and placed myself in the direct line of a technical entry job. The job I went into was immediately eliminated due to business needs. I had no choice but to accept a place in IT, though totally unsuited for it. A young man walked by one day, saw the frantic fear on my face, trying to learn software issues. Without being asked and chancing reprimands, he knelt down by my desk daily, using his break and lunch times to teach me what I needed to know … I will be eternally grateful to that caring and compassionate young man.” – Carol Ragon
Twenty-five dollars and winning ‘an Oscar’
“I love the idea of being able to send a long overdue thank-you to an anonymous couple, dating back to the end of January 1992. It was Saturday night, our second performance of ‘The Importance of Being Earnest’ at the Town Theatre. I was playing Lady Bracknell, and a bunch of cast and crew members had gathered at Yesterday’s to eat and drink after the show. Our waitress came over and dropped $25 on the table in front of me … She explained it had come from an older couple who were at a nearby table. ‘They said they had just come from your show and enjoyed the performance so much that they wanted to buy you a drink.’… She said she had no idea who they were. I felt as if I had won an Oscar. I’ve wanted to say ‘thank you’ ever since.” – Francee Levin
‘It is the America I want to see’
“Being in a wheelchair is not the easiest – or most fun – obstacle I’ve ever had to tackle. What has truly made me grateful is the kindness of people I encounter daily, whether it is the friend who comes to my house when I need extra assistance; the neighbors who help with my trash getting to the road; or the strangers (all races, genders) wherever I go who offer to hold doors, give me a push, or carry something for me. I don’t feel alone and that is amazing! It is the America I want to see. I have a lot of faith in the kindness of people.” – Pat Brandon
Me too, Pat.
Happy Thanksgiving to all.
Salley McAden McInerney is a local writer whose novel, Journey Proud, is based upon growing up in Columbia in the early 1960s. She may be reached by emailing email@example.com