As we approach the Thanksgiving Holiday, it is appropriate to give thanks for our blessings and remember others at this special time of the year.
I am reaching back to a recent post of mine, published on Sept. 16, 2008, that I want to share with you again, about a special Thanksgiving experience of many years ago.
Tomorrow evening, I will head for north central Mississippi, to the delta area, to meet 6 friends driving all night from Wisconsin, and will rendezvous with them Thanksgiving afternoon in Grenada, Mississippi. We will spend two days distributing a large trailer full of donated clothing, bedding, hand-made quilts, 150 gallons of paint, and several used, re-conditioned appliances, to several of our charitable coordinators in LeFlore, Carroll and Holmes Counties. This personal Thanksgiving experience is another year’s followup to some 25 previous Thanksgiving sharing experiences, like that portrayed in the following post.
My hope and prayer is that, wherever you are, whoever you are with, this Thanksgiving Holiday Season, that it will be one of sharing and caring, a special experience for all.
Safe travels to you all.
LISTEN, AND I WILL LEAD YOU…
By Coast Rat
More than a dozen years ago, early in the morning on Thanksgiving Day, a small band of travelers, eight in number, were making their way down across the southern United States, from Wisconsin to Mississippi, on a annual mission of mercy.
The group traveled in two 24’ rented Ryder box trucks and a borrowed passenger van, with the trucks loaded to the gills with over a thousand boxes of donated clothes, bedding, and many other items, destined for disadvantaged families in the poverty-ridden delta area of north central Mississippi, home to some of the poorest counties in the United States.
This had been an annual pilgrimage for several of the travelers, who had made this Thanksgiving trip many times in the past, leaving their homes in southern Wisconsin on Wednesday evening, driving all night on a southward journey though Illinois, Missouri, Arkansas and Tennessee, to arrive in northern Mississippi Thanksgiving morning, where they would begin delivering their precious cargo to more than a dozen locations in the Magnolia State.
On their long journey south, the group would stop only for fuel, or to use the restroom, normally arriving in West Memphis, Arkansas in the early morning, for breakfast and fuel, before proceeding on their journey.
On this particular trip, though, something strange, something very different, happened.
On that cold, November, early Thanksgiving morning, as the group was traveling through southern Missouri, the van driver radioed to the lead truck of our small convoy, that he would need gas soon for his vehicle.
I happened to be driving the lead Ryder truck in the little convoy, and replied to the van driver that I would take the next exit in the interstate that had all night gas stations, so he could fuel the van. The two trucks, equipped with large saddle tanks, would not need to be fueled until we reached West Memphis, a couple of hours ahead.
Shortly thereafter, we approached a small town just off the highway, and I turned onto the off ramp to stop at a station. The time was approximately 5:00am or so.
As I came to a stop at the end of the ramp, tired and anxious to continue on to our breakfast stop, a couple of hours down the road, I saw that there were two gas stations open directly across from stop sign where our three vehicles sat.
As I pulled the lead truck away from the stop sign, for some reason, I drove past the first open station.
And then, remarkably, I drove past the second open station.
I continued driving on down the access road that swung around to the right, and preceded on for about a quarter of a mile, where I turned into a small, Mini-Mart, with two gasoline pumps out front.
As I led the other Ryder truck around the back of the station, I radioed the van driver to go ahead and fuel up at the pumps in front.
After arriving around the other side of the station, I parked the truck, and myself and the second truck driver, one of my favorite people in the world, Chuck, walked inside the station and proceeded pour a cup of coffee, and then walked up to the counter in front, to pay for it and the gas that the van had filled up with.
As Chuck and I stood there talking, the woman clerk took my money. As she was giving me back the change and receipt for the gas, she asked us if we would consider putting some of the change in a coffee can setting on counter there, that said: “Fire Fund.”
She went on to explain that one of the mini-mart employees had had a fire the day before that, and although she and her two children had escaped without injury, her mobile home and everything in it, had burned up.
On the coffee can, were listed clothing sizes for the young, single mother and her two children.
When she asked that, I looked at Chuck and he looked at me; I put some of my change in the coffee can, and then kind of chuckled and said: “I think we may be able to help a bit more than that, too.”
I told the clerk that we were from out-of-state, and traveling to Mississippi for a few days, and that we would be coming back through in 2-3 days on our way back home, and that perhaps we could stop and help the fire victims a bit more.
We then mounted up, and continued on our journey south, had breakfast about two hours later, at Shoney’s in West Memphis, as we had for so many years previously, with our long-time friend, Gretchen waiting on us, and then drove through Memphis and down into Mississippi to deliver our cargo to many of our charitable coordinators in several counties in the delta.
Two days later, in the darkness of Saturday evening, on our back way up I-55, in southern Missouri, we took the off ramp back towards the same little Mini-Mart we had stopped at on the trip down, on early Thanksgiving morning.
Driving the lead truck again, I led our little convoy around to the back of the mini-mart building, where we parked the two trucks, and I walked around the building to talk with the clerk on duty.
As I walked into the store, I saw that the clerk, a younger female, had a rather worried expression on her face as I approached.
As I got to the counter, I saw that she hand her hand on the telephone and had actually picked it up (probably on the verge of calling 911), as she waited for me to say something. Who could blame her, having seen three vehicles drive to the rear of her store and then not come back out, and now there was a man with a beard standing in front of her at 9:00pm at night.
I proceeded to explain to the nervous clerk that I was part of a small group of travelers from out-of-state, and that we had stopped early on Thanksgiving morning, purchased gas for our van, and had learned then about the tragic mobile home fire that her fellow employee had suffered, where she lost everything.
As I talked more, trying to put her at ease that I was not there to hold her up, but was there to help, she finally put down the phone and her expression sort of relaxed a little.
I explained that our group was at the back of the store, waiting for her to open the door so that we could leave some things for the woman employee and her two children.
Finally, she accepted my explanation of what our mission was, and we walked to the back of the store, through the storeroom, where she unlocked and opened the back door.
As she opened the back door, her mouth dropped open, as there were two large Ryder trucks backed up there, with the back doors open, and eight people sitting on the backs of the two trucks, talking, waiting for the door to be opened.
The clerk said to me: “Oh, my God, you weren’t kidding!”
One of the people waiting there was my oldest son, Lucas, who was a junior in high school then, but who now is married, has two sons and lives in North Carolina. Another there was his best friend from his high school, Kristina, one year older than Luke, who had made the trip so she and Lucas could put on a special art fair for a number of kids in one little neighborhood we stopped at two days earlier.
I then asked the clerk if it was all right to stack the items we had in the store room, until the employee could get them. She said that would be fine.
As we started to unload the items from the trucks, the clerk just kept shaking her head in disbelief, “Oh, my God, I can’t believe this is happening!”
As she continued to watch us unload, she saw the following, mostly used, but very nice things, go from the trucks into the storeroom for the fire family: 3 beds and mattresses, a kitchen table and 4 chairs, refrigerator, electric stove, small TV, small microwave, small portable heater, 2 couches, 3 boxes of clothes for each of the children and the mother (we got the sizes from the coffee can earlier), a box of dishes and silverware, a box of kitchen glasses and cups, 2 boxes of towels, 2 boxes of hand-made quilts and blankets, a box of sheets and pillowcases, 3 pillows, a washer & a dryer, a box of wrapped Christmas presents for each of the children, and a couple of presents for the mother.
During the previous two days of unloading our trucks in Mississippi at our coordinators, I had made a mental list of items to save and keep on the truck, for this last, very special stop on our Thanksgiving trip.
As we finished unloading the trucks, the storeroom of the mini-mart was virtually full of things for the family who lost everything just 4 days before, in the fire.
As our volunteers pulled down the back doors of the trucks and loaded into the three vehicles to continue on our journey, I turned to the disbelieving clerk, and asked her to tell her fellow employee that we hope that these things will help her and her children to recover from their tragedy.
And then I turned, got into my truck, and we continued on up the highway.
I had not even told her or the other clerk who we were, where we were from, my name or what our true purpose was in traveling through during that weekend.
We in this small convoy all left with a special feeling in our hearts that night, warm and loving, that I think all of us has yet to this day.
We had left the north to help families in Mississippi over the Thanksgiving weekend, as many of us had for years. And during that trip, because the lead truck driver, for some reason, hadn’t stopped at the first, or at the second available gas station to fuel the van, but had driven on instead to yet a third station, we ended up being in position to reach out to a special family in timely need, in southern Missouri.
About a year and a half later, during a spring trip my wife and I were making to Mississippi to visit some of our friends there, I swung by the little Mini-Mart, had a cup of coffee, and as I was paying for it, asked the clerk if she knew what ever happened to the mini-mart employee who experienced the mobile home fire, just before Thanksgiving almost a year and a half earlier.
The clerk replied that, the women who had the fire, didn’t work at the mini-mart any more, but she and her two children were doing well. She said that the woman’s spirit was just crushed when the fire happened and she lost everything.
But then, the clerk said, an amazing thing happened a few days after the fire. She said that a group of strangers traveling through then during the night, had stopped there and left a large stack of things, clothes, bedding, appliances, beds and other household things, for the women and her two children, who were living with her parents after the fire. Nobody knew who they were or where they were from.
She said that the woman cried and cried after finding out about the strangers generosity to her a few nights after the fire. The clerk added that all the store employees were amazed at what happened.
The clerk said that after the strangers had stopped, area people found out about happened after the strangers left all those things in the middle of the night, and the town then rallied around the family with money donations, and raised enough money to buy them another mobile home.
She said that in the newspaper article the little local paper did about the whole thing and the traveling strangers slipping in and out in the middle of the night to help out, the paper had called the unknown strangers,
“The Angels of the Night.”