December in New England had indeed proven to be as enchanting as the old Currier and Ives print hanging over his father workbench had implied all those years ago. Seth Perry remembered standing on tiptoes, glancing at the old calendar page, watching his father mend broken appliances, things other people were throwing out, so they’d be ready when someone else needed them. Seth idolized his dad, and though he thought he was the smartest man alive, he remembered listening as the good man would go on and on, bragging about how his bright boy would someday leave their little home on the outskirts of Pittsburgh to attend college at a fine school in such a town, and become more than his “old man” had ever been.
That dream of college had indeed been realized. And as the freshman drove his old Jeep through Dartmouth’s entrance on his way home for Christmas, his smile remained undimmed as he glanced with but momentary longing at the clusters of foreign imports parked in the fraternities lots, many of which were owned by students whose surnames matched the names of campus buildings and Founders of both the school and the nation.
Seth twisted his hands around the steering wheel of his old, restored Jeep and smiled. “So what-dya-think, Allie?” he asked the old SUV rhetorically. “Do you suppose things like unemployment and gas prices ever touch them in their world?” Offering a wry smile, he checked the gas gauge knowing that regardless of the semester spent hob-knobbing with the young heirs of “old money”, he was simply a Perry, and Perrys did have to worry about fundamental issues like gas and money. Pleased that the fuel level in his tank was sufficient for a while, he headed west for his first leg of the journey home to Pittsburgh.
Yes, Perrys worried about a lot of things . . . and a lot of people, because as Seth had grown to discover, the Perry’s tended to adopt other people’s disasters. Take the Jeep, for example. Seth didn’t know exactly how the old Jeep had come to be his. All he knew was that one Christmas Day his father owned an old Chrysler sedan, and the next day he didn’t. Instead, in its place sat a rear-ended Jeep. “We’ll fix it up! It’ll be perfect for you, someday!” his father had assured him when he was barely able to peer over the workbench. And it was, as it turned out. But Seth wondered what sad story had been the catalyst in the deal that had netted him the old Jeep his father had lovingly nicknamed “Allie”. There had to have been one. After all, with a nurse for a mother, and a volunteer fireman for a dad, every person’s tragedy somehow landed at the Perry’s front door.
Each Christmas, his father loaded him up in his truck and carted him about to deliver turkeys and fruit baskets to every local family who had suffered a tragedy over the year. It was not unknown for a few of those families, relative strangers, to actually show up at the Perry’s dinner table at Christmas as well. The service continued when, to Seth’s dismay, the treasured leftovers were packed and sent to home with the guests. But he was always reminded that he had never gone hungry. Even now, he recognized that though some did have more of life’s goods than he, he had plenty, and more than most.
With three hours left on his journey, Seth heard the Jeep’s engine sputter and then fail and the gas gauge register “E”. Guiding the car to the shoulder, he used his cell phone to call his road service, and after waiting for nearly an hour, a tow truck finally appeared. The operator added a gallon of gas to the Jeep’s tank but the car still wouldn’t start. Frustrated beyond belief, Seth watched sullenly as the tow truck operator rigged the Jeep for towing.
The man kept eyeing Seth as he walked around the car, examining every detail. Finally he said, “She looks good. Real good for a Jeep her age.”
Shoving his hands in his pockets, Seth replied, “My dad keeps her running. He can fix anything.”
The man smiled and nodded. “That he can. People as well as things. And I’m sure he could replace this busted fuel line, but let me tow you back to my shop and take care of that for you.”
Seth eyed the man quizzically. “Do you know my father?”
Again the man smiled. “You don’t remember me, do you, Seth? Of course you wouldn’t. It was so long ago. Yep, I know your dad. Your mom too. And I know she’s one fine cook.”
“You’ve been to my house?”
The man pursed his lips and paused in thought. “My little girl’s thirteen now, so it would have been that long ago. My wife has a heart condition. It was discovered in the middle of her pregnancy. We were on our way to Pittsburgh, to Mercy Hospital to see a doctor who specialized in High Risk deliveries when we were involved in a multiple car crash on the Turnpike in mid December.”
“Wow,” said Seth, noting the feeling of helplessness the memory still conjured for the man.
“It wasn’t your dad’s company that rescued us at the scene, but he heard about us somehow, and understood what a fix we were in . . . a sick, expectant mother, a young father without insurance, both of us far from home and family at Christmas time. We were just strangers . . . kids really, but he and your mom cared about us and came by the hospital to see us every day. And when our baby was born, early and small, and unable to be discharged, they invited us to your home for Christmas supper . . . even gave us presents for the baby and loaned us the use of their sedan. Two days later, when our baby girl was released, your dad insisted we swap vehicles so I could get my family home.”
“Yep. It was great for a single fella, but it was a terrible car for a married man with a baby on the way. Your dad knew it. I fought him on it at first, but he wouldn’t hear of it. He said things had worked out perfectly. I knew they did for me. They changed me in fact. I wanted to be a man like your dad after that, and as the years went by and we kept exchanging Christmas cards and letters, I could see that God had blessed your family in return.”
Seth felt a lump grow in his throat. “Tell me something. Did you name your little girl Allie?”
The man met Seth’s eyes and they both nodded. Things had worked out perfectly.