About 50 years ago, on a bitterly cold and snowy night in Akron, Ohio, I learned two valuable lessons.
Grandma and Grandpa Neal had taken UJ and me to a University of Akron basketball game. When we walked back to the car after the game we saw that it had snowed, and Grandpa’s gigantic Oldsmobile 98 was half-buried under the blowing and drifting snow. He tried to clear away the snow, but it was obvious from the sound of spinning tires that he was stuck — and there was no way that two elderly people and two little boys were going to shove that 3,000-pound tank to a clear spot.
Fortunately, before we knew it our car was surrounded by college students and other men who had gone to the game. They lowered their shoulders and bent to the task, rocking the car as Grandpa slowly accelerated. At one point a student next to the passenger side rapped at the window, looked in at Grandma, and said: “Is it warm in there?” It made her laugh, and it was a line she recalled with a smile for the rest of her life. After a few more rocks we were over the hump and free. Grandpa got out, thanked the men, they wished us a cheery good night, and we drove off.
The first lesson — essential if you want to live in the Midwest — is how to free a car that is stuck in the snow. You don’t gun the engine and floor it; you’ll just dig yourself deeper and never get out. You need to work with your helpers, patiently going back and forth by incremental degrees, to rock the car out of the rut. And when your car is free, you need to be careful not to coat the Good Samaritans who helped you with a spray of snow and slush as you pull away.
The second lesson is that there are good people out there who help complete strangers who need help, no strings attached. Now, when I see someone who needs a hand — a neighbor whose car can’t make it up their icy driveway, or a Mom whose station wagon got stuck when taking her kids sledding — I think of those nice men who assisted us so long ago and always stop and do what I can to help them out. The Good Samaritans are still out there, and we should all strive to be one of them.