This essay, another from the archives, appeared on July 7, 2004, but recounts an event some thirty years earlier.
MY GOOD SAMARITAN
It's more than thirty years ago now, and I haven't thought about it in ages. My baby didn't know we were poor, but I sure did: it was a terrible January day, down in the teens, and we were making the trip home from the doctor's office by bus. She was bundled in her stroller, a rickety affair that I had gotten with S&H Green Stamps. They didn't have those clear plastic enclosures to keep out the cold on infant strollers in those days, and the icy wind cut right through just about anything you had on. We huddled at the bus stop, I crouching down beside her, encircling her with my arms in attempt to put myself between her and the bitter cold.
The bus was late. It didn't come and then it didn't come some more. The wind blew air that seemed to be getting even colder as we huddled there. I fought back tears: they wouldn't do any good, might freeze my eyes shut and might scare my baby, who seemed to be doing all right surrounded by her mother, her secondhand snowsuit and all those blankets.
Then a truck pulled up and its passenger door opened. It's too damn cold to be out here with a baby, a rough voice said. Where are you going?
Back to College Park, I said. Never accept rides from strangers, I said to myself. You don't know this person.
Get in, he ordered. I looked at his face, looked at my baby, looked again in vain for the bus, swallowed hard and climbed in. He got out and folded up the stroller, settling it in the cab behind my seat. It was blessedly warm inside.
Sure is cold, I said. I'm grateful to you for stopping. I don't know where the bus is.
It's too cold for you to be out there with the baby.
I know, I said. He was right. I'd like to pay you a little something for gas.
Naw. Where shall I drop you?
Well, the store would be fine, thank you. I had a little more than two dollars in my purse: thirty cents for the bus and two dollars for food. That's not enough for much of anything today, but in those days you could feed a family on twenty dollars a week, and I could do it on ten.
I don't remember what we talked about as we drove along -- it wasn't far. I would buy some groceries in the warmth of the grocery store and then Corinna and I could easily make it the ten blocks home on foot. Besides, my benefactor was just rough enough that I didn't want him to see where I lived.
But he was kind. Kind to me -- unfolded the stroller onto the sidewalk in front of the store. Just as I left the warmth of the cab, I sneaked the thirty cents I would have spent on the bus onto his dashboard. Thanks, I said. It was nice of you to stop for us.
I was in the canned goods aisle of the store when he reappeared, looking fierce. I started when I saw him -- what was he doing here? He picked up my hand and thrust the thirty cents into it. I could kill you for doing that, he said, and turned around and left before I could even respond.
I stood there with the coins in my hand. My good Samaritan, though not as poor as I was, was not a rich man, either. I had sought to deny him the joy of doing a kindness with no expectation of return and he, in his rough way, had corrected me. Even the poor are ennobled and delighted by giving.
I finished our meager shopping and pushed the stroller home. The wind wasn't as biting now, and the walk was outwardly uneventful. I thought of him, though, my angry good Samaritan, the whole way.