By Janet Stevens
I drove Barbara to the Ottawa General Hospital for her physio appointment, dropping her off at the patient door, promising to return in one hour. I then drove to Lynda Lane, joining the 50 or so cars illegally parked at the side of the road. I got out my book, but the sun was pleasantly warm so I inclined the seat, closed my eyes and dozed.
After about an hour, I woke up, adjusted the seat and moved out from my spot. Rather than doing a U turn, I drove into the parking lot between the road and the playing fields, ready to turn back onto Lynda Lane and so to the hospital. The parking lot isn’t paved and there were large stretches of muddy water. I thought I could just about get through on the right-hand side of the biggest puddle, but I knew my sturdy Honda Fit could get through anything so I kept straight on through the water. About halfway through, the car slowed. I pushed down on the accelerator, but nothing happened except that the car came to a stop.
“Shit, oh shit!” I was stuck – in a muddy puddle. I tried all the gears and was still stuck. I remembered that my cell phone was sitting on the kitchen table several miles away.
With great caution, I opened the door and gazed at the mud surrounding me. I wasn’t going to get out of this without getting very dirty. Easing my legs to the ground, I stood up. My feet sank down about an inch. Above the hum of the traffic, somebody was calling, “Do you need help?” I waved and held my hand to the side of my face, simulating a telephone, then set off towards a latter-day Samaritan. Struggling through the mud brought flashbacks of a scary movie that I saw when I was about seven. It ended with the villain (James Mason) staggering through a small forest rife with quicksand, his voice fading away until there was only a deathly silence. That movie haunted me for years.
I explained my situation to the Samaritan, then staggered back to the car and fumbled through a set of manuals to find a phone number for tow trucks. On the return trip, the heavy mud on my feet unbalanced me, and twice I fell. This reminded me of a class I had tken several years before. We were instructed to tie weights around our ankles – the idea was to get used to being old, although at that time I wasn’t even seventy. On this day, I didn’t need weights on my ankles to remind me just how old I was.
My Samaritan finally contacted a towing business. He passed the phone to me, and I entered into a one-sided conversation with an employee who poured sympathy down the line: “You poor woman, what a terrible thing to happen. Where did you say you were located? This must be awful for you. I’m so sorry.” I wondered how I could contact Barbara, waiting impatiently for me to pick her up outside the hospital. It also occurred to me that it was years since I had seen a tow truck. Did they still exist? I pondered these things as the mud hardened on my feet, legs and hands. The understanding tow-truck employee broke into my reflections to say that a truck would arrive in under an hour. An hour! From what far-flung abode cometh it?
How do you thank someone who has rescued you from a hopeless situation? I was close to tears triggered by my own helplessness and my Samaritan’s kindness and generosity. Forgetting COVID, I stepped forward and hugged him. (I should mention that I am not a hugging person. Keeping distance has never been a problem for me.)
But the story is not over. A voice from behind me was calling. I turned and encountered Samaritan #2 who was shouting, “Do you want a tow? It’s really easy.” I looked to Samaritan #1 who shrugged, and then we both answered, “We’ve got a tow truck coming.” “I’ll cancel it,” said Samaritan #1, reaching for his cell. Meanwhile a strap was connected to a hook on the car and then onto the truck. A device tightened the strap. Samaritan #2 leaped into the truck, hit the gas and pulled me and my car smoothly backwards and out of the mud.
Both Samaritans assured me that this was their good deed for the day and that they enjoyed being able to help those who needed help – even those as hopeless and ineffectual as me.
Janet Stevens has lived in the Glebe for 10 years. She volunteers and takes classes at Abbotsford.