D & S Auto, Simpson Ferry Rd., Mechanicsburg, PA 17055
In my post “Thankful To Be Thankful” I promised to dedicate a post entirely to tell the incredible story of my car breaking down near the end of one of the single most trying weeks of my life. It happened almost 3 weeks ago on Thursday, November 15th, and this experience gave me the courage to face the unexpected heartbreak in my personal life that occurred later that same night. The story will restore your faith not only in humanity, but in the kindness of strangers wanting to help. We are so used to hearing about all the evil & bad in this world that we’ve become desensitized to another murder, another crime & forget that there are many good people living in this same world, right under your nose where you’re not looking.
If you go back and look at the dates of my posts thus far, I didn’t post a single entry from November 12 through November 20th..the longest, most trying days I’ve endured in a very long time. My last post was November 11th, “Putting Humpty Dumpty Together Again”, the 2nd full day of conflict, confusion and inner turmoil that had me questioning everything I knew about my self and I had fought hard and long to achieve my independence, confidence, my sense of being complete & happy with my self long ago. The fact that I had unwittingly returned to my former mindset was not a place I wanted to be, but it was necessary apparently, says the Monday morning quarterback named Jennifer. There’s truth that for every step forward you get knocked 3 steps back occasionally; I believe this happens to remind you of the choice you have to make: take the temporary stumble backwards, learn from it & move on..or get stuck back where you used to be. I refuse to ever go back to where I used to be.
The troubles started to creep in a few days prior to Saturday, November 10th, the first day of a nightmare that I could not shake myself awake from because I was living it. I was being pulled in opposing directions from specific people in my life that was causing me to question my core being; what I really wanted, something I haven’t had to even entertain a thought about in a very long time. Feast or famine it appeared, & I really had little patience for this “game” as I don’t consider myself a participant of the mental games of life. I am an open book, easily read, brutally honest at times. I would rather be told the truth about anything than know instinctively that’s not happening. I didn’t like that mindset then & I wanted no part in any of this now or ever again, but there I was, stuck in the mire yet again. Although I had transformed myself mentally, emotionally, spiritually & physically, stress takes a toll on us all. I was physically tired, had multiple worries & that is usually a recipe for disaster for me as it is for everyone. It’s why we are human.
My biggest worry every day is my car. A 1993 Dodge Intrepid I named Bessie long ago, because she was a lemon I ignorantly drove off the lot long before the “Lemon law” of buying a car with known problems came into being.
Bessie is so old she has a cassette tape player, a cigarette lighter that can’t be used to charge your cell phone & a temper all her own. She starts when she wants to; she loses all power WHILE I’M DRIVING if she’s in a really bad mood; doesn’t like the air conditioner running in the summer or the heat/defroster in the winter. Bessie really hates cold weather, & I have to start her up at least 40 minutes prior to leaving every morning, wasting gas & praying she’s in a good enough mood to not stall while I’m driving Noah to school, our teeth chattering from lack of heat and it’s only November!
I know Bessie as intimately as I know myself. I know how to change tires, fill the various fluid reservoirs, check the oil, change the air filter & windshield wipers. I know when I have to drop her down to 3rd gear to prevent a stall & how to control her without power steering when she does stall. She’s an automatic but my very first car was a 5-speed & and I know how to handle this car.
I also recognize each particular odor that tells me a problem is imminent. I’d been smelling the familiar aroma that 8 different mechanics in the Philadelphia area could never completely fix but cost a minimum $600 to pass the annual inspection. I filed it away mentally to check the antifreeze but with everything that had transpired from Saturday, November 10 forward, I kept forgetting to check the reservoir.
It’s now Thursday, November 15. I hadn’t slept in many days & every fiber of my being was on high alert. My “fight or flight” hormones at the highest level ever as I fought my way through each day, Wednesday the day that had my very soul iced over in fear that I could not give in to as a Mother. I’ve had more than one brush with death and I tell you it’s not scary at all; it’s warm, peaceful, the knowledge that there will be no more pain, illness or exhaustion. I am not afraid of dying but I’ve never been more afraid, helpless in how to help my son that entire day & that fear kept me on watch that entire night. Close watch, in a town we’ve lived in just over a year without knowing the people to call locally for help with this situation. It’s private, something you share with your closest, tightest circle of support but only after the crisis has passed; in this situation I knew I had to face this straight on, myself, as a Mom. I had never felt more alone or scared in my entire life but relying on my survival skills, Faith & deep love for my son, there was nothing I wouldn’t do to get him through this intact. Nothing.
Thursday arrives, I start-up Bessie to take Noah to the bus stop this time. It was bitter cold, & every window had thick patches of frost covering them..Bessie refused to defrost. I get to the bus stop, notice the temperature gauge is pegged at “H” for Hot, smoke curling through the hood & that aroma gagging me. I knew from similar times that I had to get to the nearest mechanic before the engine caught on fire, which happened once, or the engine block cracked; either way I could not be without a car. Noah wished me luck & I floored Bessie while driving with my head out the window to see, forgetting I’m in my pajamas, a lightweight coat & hadn’t taken my morning meds let alone my first cup of coffee!
I remembered the above pictured garage just blocks from my house because I’m a frequent flyer of the mini-mart next door. I pulled in on 2 wheels, smoke everywhere & shut her off completely right in front of the mini marts’ front door.
I walk in, oblivious to my appearance & asked the gentleman at the register for help, an amputee of one leg named Barry, a lovely older gentleman that always has a smile on his face. He informed me that “Dan” the owner of D & S Auto right next door would not only help me but is considered, by word of mouth, to be the best, most honest mechanic in this town ironically named Mechanicsburg.
I walked over, walked into the shop & met Dan himself. We went back to Bessie, hood up & began looking her over. I look up minutes later, there are customers from the store surrounding the open hood, men of various ages talking about my dilemma, along with Barry, everyone obviously good buddies and drinking their coffee.
I was numb both from the cold, the car but mostly numb on the inside, paralyzed with fear & running on automatic.
The guys dispersed, Dan went to get tools & antifreeze & I didn’t realize I was standing alone, in my pajamas, in public during the morning rush hour on a heavily travelled road. I don’t know how long I stood there; I was completely dazed, exhausted yet wired, now wondering how much this bill was going to be & how I was going to pay it. I had no idea how I must have looked to passers-by and it wasn’t even on my radar of caring.
One person pulled into the parking lot & asked if I needed help; I thanked him & said I was getting help. I thought that was really nice, because had I been back in suburban Philadelphia I would’ve been walking home by then.
Another person does the same; & the longer I stood there, the more people stopped to make sure I was ok. I was in shock how many people chose to stop their trip to work to see if a stranger needed help & how genuinely nice every single person was! Those acts of kindness woke me up, began to thaw the ice around my heart just as Dan returned with one of his guys to get my car over to the shop & told me to go get warm in the office.
I walk in, sit down & am greeted by 4 Rottweilers that Dan rescued, tails wagging furiously as they maneuvered each other to get their turn to give me doggie kisses…I was in love! Jasper, 14 years old, got most of my attention because he was so loving himself and very polite. He waited his turn to be petted & hugged, looking into my eyes with sad eyes of his own. I swear that dog sensed the storm of emotions I was holding in and he didn’t want to leave my side.
Time passes. I’m watching the revolving door of customers come & go, all men of different ages, all well-known & heartily welcomed by Dan, his staff & dogs now back behind the counter. Dan introduced each customer to me & told them all my story, that I’m a single Mom new to the area and didn’t really know anybody yet.
Dan & I had plenty of time to share our stories with each other, about divorce, the kids, the sleepless nights & inability to eat. Dan knew the town I came from well since he’d just left the same area to relocate to this town named Mechanicsburg 3 years ago to open up this very shop. I found myself telling Dan everything because I knew he understood, he lived it & has a new life now.
I started getting antsy as time passed & another mechanic left for yet another part needed to fix my car. I’m guessing from the parts & labor alone I’m looking at a $300 minimum repair bill & started my mental switching around of bills coming due. I started getting a headache & decided whatever the amount turns out to be, I’ll find a way to pay it.
The bell on the door to the waiting area began dinging with increasing frequency, disrupting my calculations. Each time the bell rang it was a customer I’d met earlier returning to check on me & make sure I was ok. Speechless is what I became, a rarity for me but speechless I was indeed.
I was given coffee, candy, snacks & bottles of water. I was given pieces of paper with phone numbers & the names of their wives who had already been contacted by these gentlemen & were waiting to hear from me. Can you imagine that this actually happened? An entire town opening their hearts & homes to my son & I, complete strangers? I thought I was dreaming. The ice around my heart began a swift melt, the water forming in my eyes as I filled up with tears, huge lump in my throat, with each continued heart opening to ease the aching pain in mine. Never in my life had I witnessed such an outpouring of love & support, let alone be the recipient of it.
A man named Jim came back to give me packages of homemade candy that his wife Kathie makes from their home & sells in local stores. I looked up at him & blurted out, “I’m the one that’s been wiping out the supply of peanut butter fudge all summer next door!”, not believing the connection. Jim said “My wife & I know what it’s like to fall on hard times. You & your son need support. From this moment on the two of you are now part of our family; you’ll never be alone here again & we would like to have you both over for dinner, please call her”.
Dumbfounded, tears streaming silently down my face I still couldn’t talk. I stood up, gave him a big hug & managed a “thank you, I will call her” as he left & I sat back down completely blown away, starting at the familiar label on the chocolate that is still my secret treat for myself.
Dan the Mechanic from Mechanicsburg saw the parade of kindness of course & told me my car was ready. Bracing myself for the $300, he told me my bill was $67. I knew that couldn’t be possible but before I could say anything, Dan informed me he made some calls on my behalf & my bill was paid in full by an anonymous donor. I became a blubbering, sobbing mess, covered my face with both hands & just cried. The tears of total exhaustion, fear, stress from the days prior I had been unable to even think about shedding came out in a flood of overwhelming disbelief at how all of these complete strangers helped me.
I finally found the strength in my legs to stand up to go to the counter to get my keys from Dan. I couldn’t stop crying as I tried to thank him when he said words I’ll never forget: “Jennifer, it’s obvious that you’ve given much to this world to help others..now it’s your turn to receive the help you & your son need. Don’t refuse the help from pride; if you need anything, you now have your own family here to call. You’re going to be just fine”…and handed me my keys. How did he know that about me? What made him say that, I wondered?
I drove Bessie home with the heat blasting on my frozen toes, in awe at how well my car was running. I pulled in front of my house, turned off the ignition and stared with new eyes at my neighborhood. This was no longer a place to live with my son on our own; we suddenly inherited a big, loving family from complete strangers & Dan the mechanic finally made Mechanicsburg my true home town.