Is she gabbing about the weather again? Seriously?
I know that’s what you’re thinking, and, well, yes. Weather in Minnesota is part of life, it’s our background, so if there’s any “behind” to the mainstage of my life, it’s the weather.
So. I’m just back in the house, flushed and sweaty and wearing foggy glasses, after helping my niece K get her car unstuck from the drifts in the driveway. As getting stuck goes, it wasn’t bad. I got in the driver’s seat, put it in reverse, and she pushed. Wheels spun. Car didn’t move. One more set of hands pushing would have done the trick, but it was late and we were on our own.
Kitty Litter, I said, and she raced into the house to get some to provide a little grit under the tires. (Never travel in the snowy Midwest without a shovel and some Kitty Litter.)
That did the trick almost instantly. Once the car was safely in the garage, we both grabbed our shovels and cleaned out the driveway then went around to shovel the front walk. Some kind neighbor had already gone down the sidewalk with a snowblower. “Brownies for them,” I said, but we never know for sure who our snow angel is. Time to pay attention. So we shoveled the front walk, the steps, and tidied up the sidewalk, even though it will snow all night long and more in the morning.
When K and I came in the house, we were wet and snowy, shedding drops of snowmelt all over the back hall. We smelled like wet wool. But we were energized. I needed that fresh air. We recounted stories of other Getting Stuck instances.
I told her about the winter I lived in Springfield, Mo. My friend A and I were driving around in her red Corolla when we got stuck. We were doing the best we could to get unstuck but we needed a few more helping hands. A car with three guys was driving past and we waved our hands and hollered for them the give us a push. “How much will you pay us?” they asked.
PAY THEM? We were stunned. Nobody in Minnesota expects to be paid, or to pay, for giving someone a push out of a snow bank. “Yeah, right!” we hollered back, laughing, thinking they had to be joking. They weren’t, and drove away. We finally got ourselves unstuck, but couldn’t stop shaking our heads over the ridiculous expectation of payment.
K was also shocked by this. She lived for years in Canada, where pushing someone’s stuck car is just part of the winter landscape, as it is in Minnesota. And probably in North and South Dakota, Wisconsin and Iowa. In fact, she said, some people get in their big trucks or Jeeps or SUVs and drive around with the specific intent of helping get the stuck — unstuck.
There is something really satisfying about being able to help someone get unstuck.
I was stuck, big time, on Christmas morning, only a block from my house. First, I was embarrassed — I drive an SUV! How could I be stuck? Then I was lucky: A guy came out of his house and started to help by trying to push me.* We needed more help, and a guy shoveling his walk down the street joined us. Among the three of us, we figured out that the car was actually stuck on top of a hummock of hard, heavy, wet snow — like a turtle stuck on a rock, paddling like crazy but getting no leverage. We had to clear the snow from beneath. And then, with both of them pushing and me praying, I was released and rolling free.
It felt like victory! I jumped out of the car and thanked them both profusely. What a moment! We had conquered the elements and solved the problem. There were smiles all around. It was a Christmas morning gift.
Part of what makes these episodes satisfying is that here you are, in a bad situation — stuck — then getting help, frequently unasked for, and usually from a complete stranger, or strangers, and figuring out — together — how to solve the problem. You try out the plan, modify it, go at it again and then … success!
Then you both go on your way, knowing that you spent maybe ten, twenty minutes helping someone, or getting help from someone, help that came from the heart. Not because there’s money involved, but because someday you’ll need some help, or can give some help. Because it’s just what a person should do.
* Full disclosure: I soon realized that the first guy who came to my aid was the husband of a co-worker, which I mentioned to him during a moment when we were both catching our breath. I immediately vowed that I would get their family a gift certificate at Whole Foods for his help — after all, it was Christmas morning, and I knew his wife and little boy were inside their house and they probably would have been more fun to be with than a middle-aged woman stuck on a snow chunk in front of their house. And, just as I sort of expected, his wife told me a few days afer the gift certificate arrived in the mail that I had been way too generous.