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My Turn: Flat tire becomes a wheel of good fortune

I don’t recall the exact year, but I do know it was December in the ’70s. New York City was still in a state of unrest resulting from demonstrations and racial tension. Nevertheless, the holiday season had fast come upon us, so my mother and I soon found ourselves Christmas shopping and trying desperately to put the events of the past years behind us, at least temporarily.

Mom and I had spent the entire afternoon in our favorite store, Abraham & Straus in downtown Brooklyn.

When we heard the overhead loud speaker announce the store was closing, we wrestled with our many packages and eventually made our way to the top floor of the store’s garage. The level was empty except for one car, mine.

We were so busy talking enthusiastically about our purchases that we failed to notice the car was a little lopsided. It was only when I went to open the trunk that I realized something was not quite right.

It had a flat! Rather than fill the trunk with our bags, we literally threw them into the back seat, and I proceeded to extract the wheel jack from the trunk. My mother looked on incredulously, but I assured her that Dad had taught me to change a flat prior to obtaining my license several years earlier.

Technically, I knew how to accomplish this feat, but reality was another story. I couldn’t loosen the wheel nuts, no matter how I tried. Mom was beginning to look distraught, regardless of my positive attitude. Just as I positioned myself precariously on the lug wrench, men’s voices came resonating toward us.

The garage was very dimly lit, but we could see the shapes of two very large men approaching us. It wasn’t until the men were within 6 feet of where we stood that they saw us. I was balancing unsteadily on the wrench with my petite mother at my side, trying desperately to steady me. We made a strange pair.

They assessed the bizarre tableau, and, in a deep resonating voice, one of the men asked if we needed help. I shook off my apprehension, replied in the affirmative and explained our circumstances.

With a hearty laugh, he turned to his colleague and simply asked, “Can you change that tire for the lady?” Without hesitation, the second man removed my spare from the trunk, twirled the lug wrench as though it were a drum major’s baton and within seconds replaced the damaged tire.

I was in awe, and remarked something to the extent that he was my Santa Claus. This resulted in both men laughing uncontrollably with something that sounded very similar to “HO HO HO!” Smiling broadly, the gentleman who had accomplished this seemingly amazing feat informed me that each of them was a Santa Claus for Abraham & Straus.

I joined in the laughter and offered him some monetary recompense, but it was refused. Instead, my savior told me, “The next time you see someone who needs help, give it to the person without hesitation, that’s all we both want.” I nodded.

Throughout my life I have tried to live up to that promise. At times it has been difficult, at times it has gotten me into difficulties, but then I remember my two department store Santa Clauses who didn’t hesitate to help a girl in trouble and only asked in return that I remember their words of kindness, charity and goodwill.

Angela de Caprariis-Salerno,

Garden City

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