Joe was driving home one evening, on a two-lane country road. Work in his small Midwestern community was scarce, but he never quit looking. Ever since the factory closed, he’d been unemployed, and with winter, the chill had finally hit home. It was a lonely road. Not very many people had a reason to be on it, unless they were leaving. Most of his friends had already left. They had families to feed and dreams to fulfill. But he stayed on. After all, this was where he buried his mother and father. He was born here and knew the country. He could go down this road blindfolded, and with his headlights not working, that came in handy. It was starting to get dark and light snow flurries were coming down.
He almost didn’t see the old lady, stranded on the side of the road. But even in the dim light of day, he could see she needed help. So he pulled up in front of her Mercedes and got out. Even with the smile on his face, she was worried. No one had stopped to help for the last hour. Was he going to hurt her? He didn’t look safe, he looked poor and hungry. He could see that she was frightened, standing out there in the cold. He knew how she felt. It was that chill that only fear can put in you.
He said, “I’m here to help you ma’am. Why don’t you wait in the car where it’s warm? By the way, my name is Joe.”
Well, all she had was a flat tire, but for an old lady, that was bad enough. Joe crawled under the car looking for a place to put the jack, skinning his knuckles a time or two. Soon he was able to change the tire, but he got dirty and his hands hurt. As he was tightening up the lug nuts, she rolled down her window and began to talk to him. She told him that she was from St. Louis and was only just passing through. She couldn’t thank him enough for coming to her aid. Joe just smiled as he closed her trunk. She asked him how much she owed him. Any amount would have been all right with her. She had already imagined all the awful things that could have happened had he not stopped.
Joe never thought about getting paid. This was not a job to him. This was helping someone in need, and God knows there were plenty who had given him a hand in the past. He had lived his whole life that way, and it never occurred to him to act any other way. He told the woman that if she really wanted to pay him back, the next time she saw someone who needed help, she could give that person the assistance they needed. Then Joe added “...and think of me.” He then waited there until she started her car and drove off. It had been a cold and depressing day, but he felt good as he headed home.
A few miles down the road the lady saw a small cafe. She went in to grab a bite to eat, and take the chill off before she made her trip home. It was a dingy looking restaurant. Outside were two old gas pumps. The whole scene was unfamiliar to her. The cash register was like the telephone of an out-of-work actor – it didn’t ring much. Her waitress came over with a sweet smile, one that even being on her feet for the whole day couldn’t erase. The lady noticed that the waitress was very pregnant, but she never let the strain and aches change her attitude. The old lady wondered how someone who had so little could be so giving to a stranger. Then she remembered Joe. After the lady finished her meal, and the waitress went to get her change from a $100 bill, the lady slipped right out the door. The waitress wondered where the lady could be, then she noticed something written on a napkin. There were tears in her eyes, when she read what the lady wrote ... It said, “You don’t owe me a thing, I’ve been there too. Someone once helped me out, the way I’m helping you. If you really want to pay me back, here’s what you do. Don’t let the chain of love end with you.”
That night, when the waitress got home from work and climbed into bed, she was thinking about the money and what the lady had written. How could she have known how much she and her husband needed it? With the baby due next month, it was going to be hard. She knew how worried her husband was, and as he lay sleeping next to her, she gave him a soft kiss and whispered softly into his ear, “Everything’s gonna be alright; I love you, Joe.”