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Patriotic Story
Real / Nonfiction
Robert VanDerslice

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July 24, 2012

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There are some miles that need to be traveled for one reason or another, and in the 30 or so years I roamed the hiways of America as an over the road trucker, there were many roads I was supposed to take, many sights I was supposed to see...many stories I was chosen to record. Few have shamed me as deeply as this one.

The heat of the afternoon seemed to penetrate even my bones as I faced the August sun of '81, heading west out of Shreveport. The road was going to be long, the days and nights longer, before I dropped the load behind me in Tucson Arizona, and reloaded my trailer to head home to Nebraska, and the sanctuary of my family. Between the ‘now', and the ‘then' of pulling in the drive way at home, my job was to be the best I could be, to care about those around be alert to trouble and mindful of my responsibility to avoid it, for the sake of others.

In the late afternoon of the second day, I finally made it to one of my fuel stops, a busy truck stop on I-10 in Las Cruces New Mexico. I pulled in, weary and aching from the many hours of sitting and trying to stay focused, and pulled my rig up to the fuel pumps to fill up. As I was fueling, I noticed parked next to the building behind me, an older brown station wagon, loaded to capacity in back with suitcases, and a tarp bulging precariously on top of the car, strapped down with ropes. The hood of the car was open, and a fella about mid twenties was leaning under the hood, working on something that left him and his t-shirt greasy and dirty. “Try it now” I heard him tell a young woman sitting in the car. I watched as the car started and they smiled at each other, watched as he grabbed his few tools he was using, watched absently as he closed the hood of the old car. “Apparently”, I remember thinking, “he got it fixed”.

I finished fueling, and as I headed for the station to pay for the fuel, the young husband who had been working on the car, approached me and said, “excuse me”.

He was timid, uneasy as he came up to me. “I don't know how to ask this without asking straight out. Could you spare a few dollars for gas? I'm trying to get to California to my sisters...moving there from Tennessee...but my family ran out of money. Had to spend the last of it to fix my car. I'm broke sir, my family hasn't eaten since yesterday, and we're out of gas. Been here since this morning”. I looked at him, looked over at the car, and saw his wife and two of his kids sitting there, a third child, a toddler, was in it's mamas arms fussing as she rocked him. They were watching Daddy talk to some strange man in the parking lot, and I could not imagine how they must have felt, though it must have resembled lost...or overwhelmed...maybe beaten in a terrible game of ‘nothing left to go on'...

“Give me a minute ok”, I told him. “I'll be back”, and I walked on in to the truck stop station to pay my fuel bill. My mind buzzing with number crunching on how much money I needed to finish my trip, and would there be anything I could do to help that family?

As I entered the station, I got in line at the cashier where a couple other truckers were waiting to pay. In front of the line was a young soldier dressed in fatigues, mid to late twenties I guess, and he put what looked like a pack of chiclets gum on the counter, reached into his pocket pulled out his wallet, and handed the cashier a one hundred dollar bill. “Is that the smallest you got”?, the cashier asked him. “Nope”, he said simply. She took the bill, and began counting out the change to him, but he stopped her. “I need you to do sumthin' for me. Theres a family parked outside in an old brown chevy wagon, out of gas and hungry. They need a little help. I want you to give that to ‘em...and tell just tell ‘em someone cares. But I want you to wait till I'm gone ok”? And then he turned, stepped away from the counter, and quickly walked out the door, before any of us could say anything to him. We watched as he disappeared around the corner of the building, and a few seconds later watched as an old battered 4x4 pickup rolled out the driveway, and the soldier with no name at the wheel, turned west up the interstate and was lost in the glaring sun.

We all turned to look at each other, all embarrassed, all shamed by our silence, all humbled by a soldier that took the time to care, and to act without looking back.

“I wanna add to the pot”, a trucker said, and dropped a few bills on the counter in front of the cashier. “And me too”, said another, handing her his meal ticket and a fifty dollar bill. “Put the change in the pot hon”, he told her, and he too walked out the door.
I paid my bill, and as I gathered up my receipt for the fuel and left a contribution to the growing pot, the mama walked in to the station with her kids. “I'm sorry”, she said. “Would you mind if we use the restroom again for a few minutes to wash and cool off.”?

“Maam”, the cashier spoke to her. “I need to talk to you”, and she walked over to the mama, hugged her, and took her hand. “This is for your family. I'm supposed to tell you that someone cares”., and she put the money in her hand. The mama looked at her, at the money, and back at the cashier, tears running down her face. “”, she sobbed, her eyes wide with wonder and glistening with a brand new Hope. “I'm not supposed to say honey. But I've never seen somethin' like this happen before”, she told the mama, her kids at her side. “All I'm supposed to tell you is....someone cares”.

The two women embraced each other, both crying now, and finally the mama kneeled on the floor, hugging her children. “God is watching over us kids, just like mommy and daddy said. Lets go tell Daddy it's time to eat should we”? The kids were excited, jumping and yelling ‘yeaaaaaaa', as they raced out the door to an old brown chevy wagon, to tell daddy about a miracle. It was suppertime in New Mexico for a family of five, they had seen the hand of God, and they were for a time in an August sun of '81, allowed to put down their burden, because a soldier had cared enough to carry that burden for them.

By Robert VanDerslice
Copyright 2003

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