Fear Not

by Mrs Susan McGaw (Salar)

This is a true story, necessarily embellished because of the gaps left in my memory after more than a decade. As near as I recall this is what was said & done. I'm not hundred percent sure this occurred near the holidays, though there WERE Christmas lights up. (all that means is that it occurred sometime November-Feb. Small towns love their pretties :)

I have changed all names not ours for the usual reasons *grins*




I was working late that evening. I often worked the evening shift there. I was making the pastries for the next day & covering late orders of soup, chicken & bbq. I don’t recall if my boss was playing with having the restaurant/convenience store open all night again or if we simply had late hours for the holidays, but the weather was winter, cold & bleak. The time when any light shines brightly in the darkness.

We could see Christmas lights down the road especially well as the timer hadn’t turned on the closer street lamps that evening or indeed, all week. (Rural localities are notoriously laid back about these sorts of repairs) We were right on the corner of the major intersection of a small town just off a major highway. Normally it was pretty quiet & peaceful, but sometimes trouble came from out of nearby big towns. Not long before the gun store down the road had been held up, the clerks murdered. Our place was at risk too. We were the only thing open late now for miles. My then~fiancée (now my husband) was concerned enough to stand guard over me when he could. Tonight he couldn’t come. He had to work early the next day.

It was dark.

My co-worker, Peg, had remarked nervously that it was just as well we were in such a good location for traffic. Their lights and presence offered us protection, But now our customer traffic had slowed to a trickle. Neither of us said much. Our voices simply increased the fearful tension when we tried to indulge in small talk. We just kept busy, willing the minutes & hours to pass.

It grew late.

Peg and I silently listened for the sound of someone standing in the bathroom stalls outside. They were locked, but extra keys floated around everywhere. One day we had found broken ceiling tiles in there from a previous attempt. I joked about what would happen if they came down over my stove, trying to get Peg to imagine what would happen if some would-be burgler came down literally feet first into my huge hot griddle & boiling oil (a la the Big Bad Wolf), but we could both see the expanses of flimsy ceiling tile in loose grids over the eating area, the little store goods, the kitchen itself. My joke fell flat.

A large, quiet vehicle announced its slowing down across the street with a chush-ing of air brakes. The big diesel then lumbered back up to speed as it zoomed through the intersection. Peg & I looked at each other. It sounded like a bus. It was as big as a bus, but the nearest bus stop was several streets away. Had it left someone at our place? I looked out through the glass but I couldn’t see anything at first. The pitch black outside made the huge panes translucent mirrors of the oasis of lights surrounding us.

Then I saw movement. A quick flash that interrupted a garland of light just near the street.

Straining, I could at last make out a human figure. The fairly tall person wove in and out of my sight as he passed between us and the twinkling of house lights down the lane. He was hard to see, as he seemed to be dressed completely in black. I wondered if he meant to come around the building as his path meandered in the direction of the gas pumps & bathrooms, but soon it became clear he was staggering back and forth in an unsteady path toward our door. Now & then he stopped, wavering like a willow in some personal wind. For it was a man. He looked VERY drunk..or sick... or both.. Peg could see him too. She headed around her desk to get her keys saying “I think we had better lock up for awhile. Now would be a great time to clean the floors, don’t you think? Have to be closed for 45 minutes? He ought to give up by then, If he doesn’t we should be able to get the deputy.”

I was concerned enough now to pray for our safety. I felt peace descend on me.

Now I was concerned for the other guy. If he wandered into the streets in that condition he could get hit by traffic. They wouldnt see him until too late. I didnt really think he had gotten potted just to rob us, but my mind was telling me Peg’s fears were reasonable. I didn’t know what to say. So I said nothing. Even if he was picked up, a deputy would get him to safety, and probably call his family if he had one. I quietly watched him cross the streets praying nothing would hit him.

Just as Peg got to the door keys in hand, a local walked through it. I’ll call him Ole Ron. Even if he hadn’t been wearing his usually grungy, generically dark, pea coat we could have told it was him simply by the odor. His smell was unique. He acquired it by working & living on the local fishing boats, in mechanics shops, & wherever else he could earn a few dollars. Folks occasionally tried to find him someplace to stay, but he invariably wandered back out of them. I sometimes wondered if he just forgot where home was. Ron was a regular, he came for whatever he could buy, get, AND steal. This was so notorious we actually had an allotment in our inventory for his pilferage. When he went over it he would be barred from the store until the next inventory cycle began or he paid off the “tab.” (actually just the difference between what our boss planned to give him and what he took extra) Ron didn’t quite understand about money. He was one of those people.

A “girlfriend” would have Ron meet her at various locations on payday and he usually gave her all of it...not quite understanding the connection. Men of the town tried to discourage these trysts. They tried explaining the matter to Ole Ron, but he never seemed to get it. I don’t think he actually got anything for his money to tell the truth. Ron was very simple.
But he did understand that free coffee and cheap old doughnuts et al awaited him anytime he cared to stop by our place (courtesy of our kindhearted employer). So he stopped by often. He tried to save whatever money he had for his girlfriend. He believed that she depended on him. If we turned him down, he’d go hungry. It was as simple as that.

Peg was extremely frustrated with his timing. “I’m sorry, but we have to close to do the floors now. Come back in an hour, right?”

Ron looked upset. He pouted. “I’m hungry. Its cold. Canna... canna I just fill my cup (he held out his travel mug from our store that allowed him free coffee & sodas. He seemed to think it was a magic mug. He presented it all over town whenever he was thirsty) and ...don’t you have any food for me. George (the owner of our store) always has food for me”

He was obviously in a petulant mood.

Peg looked at him with kindly annoyance. “You have taken most of what George has for you. Do you have any money to buy something?” Ron shook his head. “Well I cant give you anything from the store from the rest of the month but we will give you free food when Susan is done closing the kitchen. You’re not done yet, right, Susan?”

Actually I was finished. Id even washed most of the dinner dishes. I wasn’t thrilled at the idea of locking up on Ron. He had made his rounds NOW. He wasn’t good with time. Like as not he would wander around all night hungry and thirsty (and get mad at George, whose help he counted on) if we didn’t take care of him immediately. On the other hand, the stranger was getting closer every second.

We were a little afraid of Ron, to tell the truth. He was weird enough to be trouble.

Ron shifted from foot to foot as he slowly took in what he’d heard. We waited impatiently for his mental gears to clash into drive. It was no good rushing him.

Finally Ron latched on to exactly ONE part of Peg’s speech. His eyes lit up. “You have food! free food tonight! Is it chicken? What is the free food???!!”

As Ron spoke, the stranger weaved through the door. Now that I could see him properly, the fellow didn’t look so bad to me. He was wearing a dark, dirty coat too. But the dirt looked recent, not ground in like Ron’s & it was an expensive cut. His clothes were fairly nice but simple, cotton shirt and dark slacks. His pale face was intelligent but woeful, hungover, and exceedingly blearily. The poor guy looked absolutely pathetic, like a college student on the worst night of his life. (Which just goes to show that looks often aren’t deceiving to the observant) He also perked up at the speech.

“I couldn’t be so lucky. Is there really free food? Please say, yes, ladies? I’m starving!” His slurred accent sounded vaguely British. Certainly he didnt look local.

Ron looked alarmed. “Go away! Its mine”

Peg was now non-plussed. Not much point in getting Ron to leave now, was there? In fact it was better he stay. Ron was at least a fairly friendly male presence. She looked at me and we both made the same calculation. We could feed them both, gently chase them out together, and THEN lock up.......

I spoke up. “Don’t worry, Ron. There should be enough for both of you. But as Peg just explained, we have to close right afterward and do the floors. You will have to take it with you. Let me check on the fried chicken. May be some fried potato quarters too” I checked my reserves and found we had just enough chicken & taters left in the little fridge for ONE large meal, not quite enough for two little ones. oh dear. I had the first of the fresh doughnuts, pastries, and rolls for the morning, but I could only give away leftovers without Peg’s approval. I prayed again.

The stranger groaned. “Oh no. I don’t think I could eat so much oil. I feel a little sick. I really AM hungry. I suppose its coming out of this fog. Dear lady, do you have anything else you could give me? perhaps a bit of bread?” I wondered if I could talk Peg into letting him have a few fresh biscuits. But then he actually tried to look pitiful .....which backfired badly. Peg got the distinct impression he was going to throw up and started looking for a bucket while simultaneously trying to get him out the door as fast as possible.

Peg held Ron’s dinner in her hands to keep him close by, “Well ...I’m afraid the chicken was the free food. We do have pastries cheap at the end of the day, if you have any money. If not, I’m afraid I’m going to have to ask you to leave as we were about to close....”

“I’m sorry. I haven’t any money. My friends took me to this party in Richmond. We came south together and went to this house. I had some drinks but I think there must have been something else. When I woke up I was in a downtown. No one would tell me where I was. I spent what little I had to get a bus ticket out of there, but I was still drunk from the party and I fell asleep on the bus. Next thing I know the bus driver asks me if I have a ticket to go to back to Richmond. I have no money. I have no ticket. And now I am hungry. It is inexcusable, I know. I was a student but now I am a bum. I am an idiot. I have tickets to go back and food at my hotels paid for but I must get back to use them. Am I still in Virginia? How far away am I? I must be back in Richmond at my hotel by 8am tomorrow morning! My plane leaves tomorrow!”

Peg looked a bit disgusted. She didn’t think much of folks who got in trouble from partying. She was also afraid at his outright begging. Who knew what a desperate man might do?

Now I REALLY felt sorry for him....

& he could see it.

He appealed to me directly.

“You......you do not belong here. Do you know what I mean? I saved for the tickets and if I do not use them I shall be desperate. Rich family, you know? but I am poor. If they hear of this they will help me, yes. But then what? I shall be cut off!”

I knew what he meant all right. I knew EXACTLY what he meant. If he had to be rescued it would, at minimum, be lastingly embarrassing, worse it could mar his chances of sufficient support to get his footing (probably his degree). Some people will dump you if you embarrass them socially. Others are superstitious, if any disaster marks you as a loser, they will stay as FAR away from you as possible.. I was quite flattered at his declaration of kinship. I wondered what he saw, or if he was simply hoping. Still I didn’t doubt his story. He didn’t look sober enough to be making this up for one thing. His story matched everything about him, for another. I found his humility refreshing.The poor guy probably WAS hungry...and there were the

“brownies. I still have some old brownies, Peg. We were going to get rid of them anyway....”

“No, we weren’t! Not for another day at least! They are still fresh!” Peg was nettled by his comments to me, uneasy with the situation drawing out, & feeling braver (if queasier) with Ron nearby. She was getting testy with nerves. Normally she was a lot nicer than this. Another day she might have handed him a roll off the tray herself.

“Peg, I think you may have gotten confused. Not suprising on a busy day.” Peg started to point at the trays I had just pulled to put away. I showed the eclairs to her. “Yes, these are fresh. Those are from this morning. The brownies are ancient.” I picked one up and dropped it a fair distance by way of demonstration. It made a decidedly solid-sounding thud on the counter. When I picked it up I took an odd satisfaction in seeing there was a tiny new dent in the metal surface. No doubt about it. These were now the dwarf bread of brownie-dom

Meantime a trucker had wandered in quietly, waved his coffee mug at us, and went to fill it.

“Oh all right. He can have a few. But the others should just be marked down.”

I sighed and shook my head. I wouldn’t sell those brownies on a bet, unless the purchaser promised on their sacred honor to use them solely as clay targets, bricks, or paper weights. I felt pretty bad about giving them away. But if its what you have.... I put a generous “few” in a sack for him. The student dove into the sack immediately. He mumbled thanks & that they were good, but dry. (no kidding, even with icing the top layers could more easily be classified as desert than dessert)

Ron informed him that he had to have a mug to have a drink.

“Is there a fountain I could use?”

Peg pointed to it. Ron grinned a little. I knew why. The untreated well-water tasted like its bottom was in Hades itself. It smelled like rotten eggs & it tasted worse. If he was still even halfway nauseous, that stuff would complete the job.

“You don’t want to do that!” I tossed twenty cents to Peg and got him a cup. Then filled it from the filtered tap behind me. I would love to have gotten him a coke, but the more his class showed, the smaller margin I had with Peg. Fountain sodas & coffee were in HER domain. I only ran the kitchen. Meeting someone who seemed to have all the advantages landing on his head for sheer carelessness was not bringing out the best in Peg. Besides....she was still scared of him.

After a few deep swallows, He drew a deep breath. “Thank you. I am better. But I fear I am still desperate to know where I am and how I can get back.” He weaved a little in place and caught himself on the counter.

Ron took advantage of the distraction this made to grab his meal and leave. But the trucker was still there. He asked about seconds on free coffee with a gesture, but we just waved him on. He could have the whole pot as long as he stayed.

I reassured the student “You are still in Virginia. As a matter of fact, you aren’t very far from Richmond. Maybe a couple of hours...” ***

He looked up. “to walk?”

“to drive”

“oh” His head sagged. “Maybe you could take me there? Do you know the way?”

I was afraid this was coming. I didn’t know this guy. Feeding him was one thing. Wandering off alone with an inebriated stranger was another. There were other problems. I still had hours to go on my shift, precious little fuel in my tank, and only a little money left until payday. I had planned to buy a little food & fill my tank in the morning. Then I would be near broke for days. I could ~just ~ take him to Richmond. I could wander around streets I didn’t know much better than he did until he found his hotel and went home, but then what? I would either have to skip eating or not even have enough gas to go to work unless Tom or Mom could help me! But to refuse! I looked at Peg, but her eyes plainly told me that she thought I was an idiot. Id get no help there. I had already prayed about this guy repeatedly. I prayed now for a different answer, but I was sure helping him was the right thing to do. Still.....I was afraid to do more.

“I don’t know if I can, Sir. Is there any chance someone could pay me for the gas if I did? I’m short right now. You’d have to wait until I got off work too. That’d be after dawn”

He shook his head. “Those who I would have asked did this to me. I could pay you when I got home?”

Weeks later? That’d be a little late to do me any good. I looked at Peg again. She looked out the window in disgust. My heart gave another stab. What would she say to Tom if I helped this guy? Would he understand? Tom liked to help people, but he didn’t like me to take unnecessary risks.

At this point the trucker quit stirring his (third?) coffee and spoke up. “I’m going to Richmond. I know that city pretty well. Where did say you need to go?” The young man told him.. He nodded. “I know it. I can drop you off after I drop my load. Should be in plenty of time for your flight. You have any money for breakfast? I could feed you on the way, but I cant afford to treat you.”

At this the foreigner drew up his frame and announced he had a little travel food. He smiled grateful thanks at me (his first smile) and waggled the bag. I groaned inwardly. This was NOT the only meal I wanted him to have in Virginia. What a memory of hospitality! Relieved that I didn’t need to take him, I dug in my wallet and got out what I felt I could spare (about five dollars & uncounted change) **** & gave it to him. He insisted on writing me an IOU. He asked for my mailing addy so he could repay me later. Here I choked. I decided to give him my parents address instead.

Looking into his face....I knew he was wondering if I had really given him my address.

Then the two wandered out to the truck. The young man still seemed a little sad, but no longer despairing. The trucker helped him into rig. Then they were gone.

The night fell back into silence. We closed for awhile and did the floors. No more customers appeared so we left the doors locked until dawn.

I didn’t hear anything more until the trucker happened back in days later. “Good ev’ning!” He said with a smile. “Guess you’ll be glad to know that college kid made his flight.”

Peg just snorted. “Have to be careful. You never know these days. Its not safe for you either”

Trucker just looked at her for a moment, then slowly nodded. “Yeah, I guess. But ya gotta do what’s right too. Couldn’t leave him here. Nice kid.” Then he growled, “Rotten friends. I met ‘em. They thought it was funny what happened to him. Thought the toughs would beat him up. Could have happened. Guess God was looking out for him.”

Yep, God WAS looking out for him.

I smiled. It was pleasant to hear his story confirmed, and even better to hear our help had been enough to straighten out the mess, I felt weirdly vindicated. I hadnt done much, when you came right down to it.

But God looked out for me too.

At the end of that shift, I found whole buckets of chicken put aside in the BIG fridge (in back of the sodas) from lunch. It was some party order no one had picked up. It couldn’t be saved so I got it. You’d be amazed at what I can do with buckets of leftover poultry & potatoes & an empty freezer. I didn’t miss that money at all.

I never heard from that young man but I really didn’t expect to. I’d seen the look on his face. He may not have believed that addy went anywhere at all. Then too, my increasingly erratic stepfather wasn’t exactly great at passing on my mail. I hopefully assumed my mother would rescue it for me if he wrote.

ah well.

It struck me later that this dear fellow’s nightmarish evening had begun by malicious treachery but extended by fear. The people at the bus station were afraid to get involved (at that point it would have been fairly easy & cheap to have bundled him off to the correct hotel.) The bus driver didn’t dare break the “end of the route” rule. (Though he *DID* drop him off at an open store instead of the dark, closed streets downtown) We almost shut the door in the man’s face because of thugs. I was wrestling with fear even after I had a chance to talk to him. Fear of strangers. We’ve all heard the stories. Fear that I wouldn’t get help to get by if I went the extra mile. The scripture says that if someone asks us to go a mile we should be ready to go two. (okay ~ even if it was more 200 miles, its the same principle). The main thing I managed to do right was pray for him.


This evening was going to be an adventerous glitch in a well-ordered life or the beginning of the end of the hopes of a very nice young man. We could have ruined this guys life, because we were AFRAID to help him. Yet God’s answer was there everytime I prayed. Hurray for a brave trucker! God bless him greatly wherever he is!

No wonder God AND Jesus AND the Angels order us “To Be Not Afraid.”


*** I was wrong about it being a couple of hours. In light traffic it was at most an hour from my place of employment to very door of his hotel, but I lived nearly an hour the other way. It always took ME two hours to get there.

**** the place the trucker mentioned was a justly famed truck stop near Richmond. Back then you could get an extremely generous classic southern breakfast for around five dollars.... plus tax & tip.


postscript::::: After more than a decade I learned that the young man DID keep his promise. My mother tells me that someone wrote “out of the blue” about then, including at least a 5.00 bill & maybe a dollar or two more, but my long since ex-stepfather had shown it to her only briefly (actually, he shoved it in her face) before he went raging off to tear it & the envelope up. She didn’t see who it was addressed to, and as she also been known to help people she thought maybe one of them had gotten her name from someone else (she couldn’t recall giving her address out, let alone to such a well-spoken individual.) My former stepfather had made weird noises about someone writing from far away. When she read this, all the pieces fell into place.

As near as she recalls the notecard said .....in part

“Dear Lady, Here is the money I owe you. You would not believe how much this meant to me. You have helped restore my faith in mankind...... “

and his name.

which we have both forgotten. Well we can & we do pray for God to bless him anyway. Most especially that he found better friends! :)



Please note:: All rights to original works on these pages are reserved by the authors/artists. Unauthorized, and, most especially, commercial use is prohibited.

Navigation code adapted from Expand Pull down menu at Javascript.com