The Literary Corner: Renegade Writer’s Guild

Published 9:07 am Thursday, September 16, 2021

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The Helpers

By Gaye Hoots

A friend sent me a video of a man a few years younger than I describing what he experienced as a child. The news of the Vietnam War, the assassinations of the Kennedys, Martin Luther King, and Malcomb X, the Manson and Zodiac murders were on the TV daily and cast a pall over our country.

He related a trip he accompanied his father on to another state. They were on a rarely traveled stretch of road when their fuel pump went out. Their only option was to walk about 10 miles in extreme heat. A cowboy in a flatbed truck pulled up and offered to tow them into town. The father explained he had no cash and only a card that he could use to purchase gas.

The cowboy insisted on towing them without charge and took them to a garage owned by his friend. It was Sunday, but the mechanic agreed to work on the car and called the man who owned the parts shop. He located the part and brought it to the mechanic. The father again explained his financial situation.

The cowboy was on his way to the railyard to unload a boxcar load of watermelons and told them he would pay for the repair if they helped unload the boxcar. It was hours of back-breaking work in the heat of the day. By the time they completed the job, the mechanic had the car repaired. He insisted his wife had prepared a meal for them. The man still remembered it as one of the best he ever ate. They were allowed to shower before departing.

When they hit the road, the father said, “Remember, Son, that regardless of the bad news we hear every day, that most folks are like these, good people.”

His story reminded me of a trip we went on to Florida with a friend and our young children. We had an issue with the car within the first 100 miles and spent a couple of days waiting for repairs to put on her charge card.

While we were driving through Georgia, the car overheated. It was almost five o’clock on a Friday.  There were no cell phones then, so we pulled over at the first building we came to, a beer joint with no phone. A young man there offered to drive one of us to a business a few miles away. His car only held two people, so Ellen stayed with the kids. After I left with the young man, the bar owner told Ellen that a vehicle had been found with a woman’s body in the trunk a few weeks earlier. She prayed until I returned.

By the time we arrived at a phone, it was after five. I called the only repair shop in town, a car dealership. The owner answered and stated everyone else had gone for the weekend. I explained our plight, and he drove out, picked us up, took us to a local motel for the night, towed the car to his shop, and had it ready for us before noon on Saturday. We were exceedingly grateful.

I am guessing most of you have had similar experiences. Most people are good and have good intentions. Sometimes we get caught up in the doom and gloom and fail to appreciate the tremendous blessing and good people who make life worthwhile.

Who Shall I Help?

By Marie Craig

My mother was an excellent seamstress.  She and I always had special clothes because she would make them for us.  She had an inexpensive source of quality fabric, so she had a full closet.

After I married and moved away, she told me of an experience that had really made her so angry she could hardly talk about it. Her church in that small town collected second-hand clothes for an extensive clothing closet in a big town 15 miles away. These shared items were to be donated to the poor who were struggling to make ends meet.

She had surveyed her closet and chosen several dresses that she wore only occasionally. She said she felt led to share with the less fortunate. There was a special dress she wore often, but she decided to give it away to someone else who needed it. Once a month, a well-to-do woman from the big town came to my mother’s church to collect the clothes and take them to the charity.  My mother presented this dress and a few other things to the woman.

A month later, when this same woman returned for another set of shared items, she was wearing the special dress my mother had made.

Fire came out my mother’s mouth as she described this. “I gave this for some poor woman to wear; not to one of the richest women in that town! She could afford any dress in the most exclusive shops anywhere! I don’t intend to ever give away anything else to that group!”

When she was loudly expressing her anger, I had a chance to think. “What you have here is not a violation of your trust, but a superb compliment to your seamstress ability. Instead of buying an expensive dress, she realized the quality of your work, and she wanted it for herself.” I did understand her anger and disappointment but was trying to rid her of some stress. She seemed to calm down a bit and pondered this appraisal.

Perhaps we are wrong to assume that we will only help poor people, but sometimes we are to serve and not ask questions. I remember a Reader’s Digest quote: “Be Kind. Everybody is fighting a hard battle.” Hopefully, my mother’s gift enhanced the life of a person who was rich in money and needful of a blessing.

The Heart of a Teacher

By Julie Terry Cartner

I tried. I really did. But I failed, miserably.

I agreed to fill a teaching position for a couple of weeks for a teacher friend who needed a helping hand. No problem, I thought. No problem. Famous last words. I can go in for two weeks, help get the school year and students off to a smooth start, and keep myself objective. I can do this.

The teacher workdays went smoothly. I re-connected with old friends, marveled at the new and beautiful building, learned my way around, practiced going up the up staircases and down the down.  Mostly I planned – what to teach and how to teach it.  I reached in my old hat of teacher tricks: ways to engage the students, ways to get them thinking in new and different ways, and ways to cover a small part of the curriculum. I reached into new hats and figured out the rules and procedures, the complex technology, and how to teach through a mask.

Open house went smoothly. I met and reassured parents and students; the teacher they were expecting to meet would return in a few weeks. I answered questions to the best of my ability and did my best to project a warm and welcoming atmosphere.

Then the day arrived. Bells rang and students arrived, quickly finding their thoroughly cleaned, socially distanced, alphabetically organized seats, and the day began.  We read an excerpt from a well-loved book as a way of writing an introduction from them to me and discussed how the author had shared bits and pieces of herself. I shared an example about myself to model what I wanted, then asked them to turn the assignment in a few days later. I gave them an index card and asked them to share brief information with me. I collected the cards to read after school.

Then my heart broke a little bit. I read brief snippets of their lives, their families, their jobs and cried. These young men and women have struggled, not only due to the effects of Covid, but also at the often-related challenges of their lives. And yet, there they were, sitting in my classroom, willing to open up and share with me, a total stranger, but in a profession they still chose to trust. Yes, there they sat, willing to keep striving, to keep working, to achieve graduation and hopefully a better life.

Then I read their essays. My heart broke the rest of the way. Stories, oh, the stories they told. Their lives are hard, yet they persevere. Facing challenges as simple as finding time to do their work to issues so much more complex – family concerns, personal matters, fears for their lives, and worry for their futures.

I’ll be with them for a few more days and will do all I can to make their lives better, if only for 83 minutes a day.  I’ll remind myself: they’re not my students; it’s not my classroom. But in only two weeks, I feel that ownership. I care about them, their lives, their futures.

I tried, I really did, to keep this experience only professional. But I failed. Who can look into the eyes of students hurting and worried, and not get emotionally involved? Who can look at the tattered lives that Covid has decimated and not care? Not this teacher, retired though I might be. My hat’s off to them, the brave and beautiful future of our world.