On the Passenger Side of my Mother’s Car

We were waiting at a red light, our old Chevrolet idling noisily, when I noticed that look in my mother’s eyes again.  I nervously followed her gaze and saw what she was focused on. A man was standing near the curb, his eyes empty, his clothes shabby. “That poor man has no socks!”  my mother said, her voice vibrating in that way I’d come to dread. “It’ s bitter cold today!” I saw then what she was referring to.  The man’s unlaced shoes were hanging open around bare ankles.  “Here, quick!” My mother rummaged through her purse and pulled out a dollar. “Run into Penney’s and buy that man some socks! I’ll drive around the block!”
“Noooo, Mom, noooo!”  It was the thing I hated most about driving places with my mother. She was always spotting people to help. Then guess who ended up doing it? On the passenger side of the car, I was so nice and handy. But what choice did I have? I was fourteen and at least two years away from driving. Generally though, it was just old ladies caught in bad weather or who’d just missed the bus. Generally, I could just call out the window to offer them a ride and didn’t even need to get out of the car. This was far worse.
“The men’s department is right in front. Buy a pair of socks—good warm ones and give them to him! That’s all you have to do. I need to turn here, but I’ll go around the block and be right back. With all these people around, you’ll be fine.” I knew from experience that there was no use arguing when she was like this.
I sighed heavily, took the dollar, and with the enthusiasm of a French royal  heading to the guillotine, exited the car. Why did she do this to me? I’d never even bought men’s socks before! How was I supposed to know which socks to get? My mother was a widow and there were just the two of us. And why’d she told me not to talk to strangers when in the next second she made me  talk to them? What was I supposed to say to this guy anyway? And what would I say to the clerk inside the store? I didn’t even know what to say to the kids at school. That was another thing. What if one of them saw me talking to this man? That would be mortifying!
Somehow I managed to buy the socks, and soon I’d found my way back out of the Penney’s and was looking around for the man. It was cold all right and the sooner I got this over with, the better. So where was he? I squinted and sniffed as I surveyed the sidewalk. A crowd had gathered at the bus stop, but I didn’t see him there either.  Had he left? Maybe he’d left! But then I spotted him. He was on the far side of the bus stop, partially hidden by a pole he seemed to be hanging on to for support.  I took a deep breath, my eyelids flickering. I don’t remember what I ended up saying to the man as I handed him the socks. Maybe I mumbled a “Here,” or “These are for you.”  I do remember that  he stared at the socks for several seconds as if trying to register what had just happened.  Then he looked at me through filmy eyes. “Thank you,” he said.
“Can’t wait until I can drive,” I complained a few seconds later as I hurriedly climbed back into our car.  My mother smiled and patted my arm in understanding.  By the time we got to seventh east, it was starting to get dark. I stared out the side window at the bumper to bumper cars all trying to make there way south. An impatient driver honked and waved out the window. Great! I had hours of homework to do and here we were going about two miles an hour in a traffic jam! Oddly, though, I didn’t really feel that bad about it. In fact, as light flashed through the Chevrolet’s windows, I caught my reflection in the passenger side window and saw that I was smiling.
It’s been many years since that experience. Times have changed and these days  many stand on street corners and solicit help. It’s easy to become suspicious and cynical. As I find myself philosophizing on when or even if  I should stop and give, I hope I never forget the warm feeling I had that cold day. I hope I will keep my heart open to the spirit so that I will be able to discern who around me and in my life needs my help. I hope I continue to remember what my mother helped me learn—that there’s something about giving that feels good and right.


4 thoughts on “On the Passenger Side of my Mother’s Car

  1. MelRae
    Dec. 5, 2012
    If I can stop crying, I will send this beautiful story to all my friends and family. Your gift of writing and your Mother’s gift of giving are truly examples of the “season of giving and of the birth of the Savior.” I love you both.

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