I was 12 years old the Christmas Day we went to Disneyworld.  My sister, brother, and I had been watching previews of the place for years on the Disney TV show on Sunday nights.  We begged our parents to take us there.  They finally struck a deal.

If we agreed they wouldn’t be buying us any gifts and if we each earned some money over the year, we could go to Florida on Christmas break.  Deal!  We left our cold northern home a few days before Christmas.  By car.  Dad didn’t like flying.  We made stops in Kentucky, Tennessee, and Alabama before arriving in Florida.  It was like visiting an alien planet.

My sister was car sick for much of the ride, and the new Charger Dad had bought in September started having engine issues.  None of that slowed us and on Christmas, we reached our goal.  The day after, we went to Busch Gardens.  Needless to say, these places were the highlight of my young life.  Then we headed for home up the East Coast.

The car trouble became worse.  In a driving rain storm in Virginia, the car stalled along the highway.  The old man had the hood up and was getting soaked when a guy pulled in behind us.  My dad was 6’6” and the man who arrived was even taller.  He worked in the storm with my dad until they concluded parts were needed.  The two left us waiting as they drove away.  Mr. Meyers, the big fellow, was a black man.  Where I came from, we knew so few people of color.  We had heard stereotypes.  There was worry the old man wouldn’t come back.

But they did.  They got the Charger running.  Then Mr. Myers turned down any money.  “You’ve got little ones to get home,” he said.  “And it’s Christmas!”  An angel crossed our path that day.

Back home, it was discovered bad gas purchased at a local station was the cause of the engine trouble.

Years later, I asked my dad why he didn’t sue Mr. Botens, the owner of the station.  He explained that years before the Florida trip, my mom had been very sick and spent weeks in the hospital.  He was juggling medical costs and raising three small kids.  One night he was talking with Mr. Botens, who asked after my mom.  The two had known each other since she was little.  My dad shared the story of hardship.

It was just before Christmas.  The Motor Inn Garage had more than gas pumps.  There were shelves filled with toys.  The owner gestured at the shelves.  “Take what you need and pay me when you can,” he explained.

Mom was home for Christmas.  Dad paid the debt by February.  He never forgot a kindness.

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