Through the looking glass: Cars, diamonds and ponies

It’s that time of year again. Peace and good will, love and joy, mistletoe and my mom’s Christmas pudding. I have loved Christmas since my brain was developed enough to correlate that when Dad strolled through the house, grumbling, with a trail of lights bouncing along behind him, that was the time that my mothers’ Christmas pudding would be created. People would come for miles when they heard of Mom’s Christmas pudding. One year there were these three guys with funny accents and they brought Mom gifts. It was kind of weird.

Ah, it makes my cheeks flush to think of my dad stapling those old fashionably large 1970’s bulbs across the eave of our house. Each staple would bring a new and inventive swear word. It was probably forty below so Dad would have been wearing mitts. It was my job to later remove all the staples from his mitts. I once had enough to make garland for the tree. I was probably most fascinated by Dad’s ability to be able to vacate all fluid from his nose without a tissue. It’s quite simple really, while holding one finger firmly against a nostril you forcefully…. never-mind. I was never able to do it either. Fortunately, living in the prairies negates the need for such dexterity as most fluids freeze the minute we step outside.

Christmas! Yes, love Christmas. Hate the propaganda. This year I actually saw Christmas stuff out before Halloween was even over! Aren’t there laws against that sort of thing? Christmas ads are rampant everywhere you look, showing sexy couples with impossibly groomed families, spending an obscene amount of money on ridiculous frivolity for people who couldn’t possibly have earned it. I know because I am an impossibly congenial human being and I’ve never gotten a car with a big red bow, or a diamond bigger than my finger, or a pony.

I have to believe that the true joy of Christmas is indeed the spirit. Stop gagging, it’s true! I don’t mean the benevolent charity types, though they do have their place and are very valuable, but more the pragmatic folks. The ones who daily bear the marks of donning the good Samaritan tunic. I say bear the marks because I don’t think these folks stroll through life unaffected. After my latest round in the proverbial boxing ring of life, I did not exit unscathed. I was carried out on a stretcher with enough smelling salts to wake an elephant from a coma and I still couldn’t open my eyes. I still haven’t found the humour in that one. Maybe I’ll write about it someday.

I love it when I hear people say, “I wish there were more people like that in the world.” I have to take a deep breath before I answer to avoid screaming, “There are!! But people like you have terrified them into submission and recluse!” In the most eloquent words of Forrest Gump, “that’s all I’m going to say about that.” In the midst of it all, there are still a few who embody the true spirit of Christmas but don’t reserve their altruistic acts for a short season.

I was once beyond fortuitous when I encountered two of these folks in one day! I’m sure if you weighed the odds it would have been like winning the lottery twice, or receiving a car, diamond or pony.

Returning from Red Deer home to Edson at the time, I was ill. I mean I was hospitalized the next day, ill. I pulled in somewhere around Edmonton for gas. Most of it is all still a blur. I was pretty fevered. Lethargic. I’m sure my driving skills were completely unaffected…

An old car pulled into the station and parked at the tank across from me. I heard the car before I saw it and wondered briefly if I had inadvertently pulled into an airport instead of a gas station. I don’t remember a lot about the car except it was likely a 70’s model, green four door, missing its rear suspension and muffler and if memory serves there were fuzzy dice hanging from the mirror. I was a bit disappointed to learn that Cheech Marin was nowhere to be seen. When the two men stepped out of the car, my non-judgmental side immediately deduced that they were either driving this car only because it was too cold for their bikes, they were striking for Hell’s Angels and hadn’t earned bikes yet, or they owned a tattoo shop/marijuana grow-operation. Likely all of the above. The one ‘gentleman’ caught my eye and I was briefly frozen in his gaze. He offered a sideways smile and I caught myself tucking my jacket a little tighter around my neck.

I must have selected the pump that had an inner tube the size of a drinking straw, because my fuelling seemed to take forever and the two men finished before me. Although, as a side-note, I have noticed that the speed with which the fuel is delivered into your vehicle is directly proportionate to the time it takes to lose all feeling in your extremities. It flows a lot slower in the prairies.

I don’t remember if the gas cut off itself upon filling my tank or if I gave up and ended the misery myself. I could no longer feel my fingertips. Throwing the gas cap on I trudged towards the station, passing the men on the way. They both smiled. I smiled, and glared. Stepping inside I waited in line and began sniffing as things started to thaw. As my turn came up I motioned towards my vehicle to identify the number I was at and pulled out my debit card.

The cashier confirmed “Number 3?”

I squinted out the window and nodded. She cheerily replied, “That one has been paid.”

I was annoyed. Squinted again. “No, the tan minivan.” Offered my debit card.

She looked at her till again. “Yes, that one’s been paid.”

I stared, mouth gaping, nose running. “What? How? Who?” I was very articulate.

“A man.” Came the answer.

“What man?”

“Um, the man in the car?”


Finally my cognitive wheels started rolling and connected the dots. Dumb-ass had paid my gas instead. I again offered my debit card. “Fine, I’ll pay for his.”

She arched an eyebrow at me and probably wondered if I should be driving. “Um, he paid for his too.”

Mouth gaped further, catching the run from my nose. “What?” Really my ears were unaffected. It was my brain that couldn’t keep up.

“He paid for your gas and his own.” Why was she talking so slowly? “I assumed you guys were together.”

This was a paradigm shifting moment. I was insulted and grateful all at the same time.

Mouth still gaping, nose still running, I walked – or rather – dragged my weary body back to my van. I don’t know how long I sat there in cold stunned silence before I finally started my vehicle and left. It did take a while to fully clear the windows. When I was able to form rational thoughts I phoned Dion and began to relay the events. By now I was only about an hour from home. My misery made it difficult to fully appreciate the generosity of strangers. Judging by the smell of burnt wires, my fever had reached a pitch.

In that moment I successfully brought Dion to his knees in fear by screaming, “Oh my God!”

Reminiscent of a scene from any horror movie, Dion was left speaking to a dead line. “Jen? Jen are you there?”

I’d had a blow out. At highway speeds. With a semi right behind me. This was it. My moment. I had visions of lying in a casket with tissues in my nose to catch the drips.

Swerving all over the highway, watching the semi bearing down on me, I think I actually closed my eyes. Somehow, I attribute superior driving skill and a calm head under pressure, to the fact that I managed to pull the van to the safety of the shoulder seconds before I felt the familiar rocking of the wind caused by the passing semi.

Slowly pushing the gearstick into park I let my head fall against the steering wheel… and cried. No, I sobbed. The ugly cry. This wasn’t the gentle, heartwarming sniffs you get from a small child when they lose a goldfish. This was Charlie Brown looking for Snoopy ugly. So ugly I didn’t hear my phone ringing for several minutes. Finally, on an inhale, I heard my phone and answered. Dion’s relief was audible as I blubbered my plight.

On any other day, I could change a tire. I knew how. Today was not that day. Stepping weakly from my vehicle I proceeded to the back of the van as Dion began to walk me through the very complicated process of pulling the spare tire down from underneath the van. Whoever came up with that idea was a very tormented genius. Just saying.

Crying, kneeling, sniffling, pretty sure dying, I heard a vehicle pull in behind me. Looking up I saw a glow. Slow motion movement coming towards me. Angels replaced the ringing in my ears as the man’s wings morphed into arms. Crouching beside me he spoke in a beautifully soft Irish lilt. This was it. I had died. I knew angels were Irish. “I was goin’ the other way, passin’ you, when I saw what ‘appened.” He was going to hell? “I don ‘ave a lot o’ time but I think I can manage enough to change yer tire.” Pfft! Tire! Who cares about the tire?! Patting my back he smiled and stood “Where’s yer jack luv?” Seeing the stunned look on my face, probably deducing I was deaf he shook his head. “Never-mind, luv. Go sit in yer van, I’ll sort it out.”

Nodding numbly, I obeyed and walked to the side door of the van and climbed dutifully inside. It was then that I realized I could hear a voice. “God?” Then I realized the voice was coming from my hand. My phone! “Dion? Oh, Dion. You’re not going to believe this.”

The ‘Irish Angel’ finished my tire, awkwardly endured my hug and urged me to drive carefully before continuing on his way.

Having had my faith in humanity restored, I drove the rest of the way with my flashers on, cruising at the breakneck speed of 80 km/hr with my dummy tire. Lying in the hospital bed the next day with IV running I was left trying to reconcile another eventful day. And yes, most events in our home result in a visit to the hospital. Isn’t that normal?

To this day I still pay for the people behind me at Starbucks. Occasionally leave a loonie in the loonie carts and, when conditions allow, stop on the highway to offer assistance. I wish I could meet those men again. The ‘gangsters’ were as valuable to me as the ‘Irish angel’. I would thank them for not letting society kill their inner altruistic. Isn’t that what Christmas really means? I have to believe it has nothing to do with cars, diamonds and ponies.

I’ll leave you to ponder that. I see my dad pulling out some Christmas lights…

Jennifer Barry is a writer for the Spectator Tribune.

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