A Big Debt of Gratitude

Is there anyone to whom you feel you may owe a big debt of gratitude? Someone who perhaps did you a favor when you did not expect it or saved you from some acute embarrassment, simply by keeping his mouth shut.

That question came up in the middle of a beer-soaked gathering recently when we were going over all “the remember whens,” and I could not help but remember one particular act of kindness by a local part-time police officer.

It happened well over thirty years ago. I was a member of the local volunteer fire department back then and my main companion at the time was a co-conspirator who I called  “Mookie.”  I have told you all before that I have a penchant for being caught in life’s embarrassing moments. Well if there was ever a man who was worse in this arena, it was Mookie. And together we made a pair that surpassed mere misadventure and were hurdling toward actual menace and calamity.

Mookie and I were members of the volunteer fire department in our little town and late one night in July, during a real hot spell, we answered a fire call in the evening hours. Several haystacks were on fire and they burned most of the night. The temperatures never dropped below 90 degrees and we were in full fire gear. When it was finally over about thirty dirty, smelly, sweaty, smoky firemen returned to town at about three or four a.m.

Mookie and I left the firehall together after cleaning the hoses and putting them away. We emerged smelling worse than a herd of moist bison and all the dirty laundry in Bangkok. We merged our nimble little smoke filled brains into a plan.

We both knew that when we went home the first thing we needed was a shower. We both agreed that undressing  and getting into the shower would most assuredly awaken our wives in the early morning hours. A pile of dirty, smelly, clothes in the hamper would not go over either. So, being the neat, clean, sensitive fellows that we were, we decided to go down to where I had my houseboat docked and simply grab a bar of soap and jump into the water. We reasoned that no matter how dirty we were, it would be difficult to leave a ring around the lake, like we most assuredly would in our own bathtubs.

We got in the car together and headed for the boat. It was about 4 miles to the dock. We dropped all the dirty, smelly clothes in a heap on one end of the dock and dove off the deep end with soap and brushes in our hands.

We came out of the water about fifteen minutes later;  clean, scrubbed, and totally refreshed. In retrospect it was a huge brain cramp, a decision that exhibited all the intelligence of bean dip. For, you see, we had not brought along a change of clothes. The only clothes we had with us were the disgustingly dirty, smelly, smoky clothes that we had just shed. We couldn’t bear to put those clothes on, but we needed to get back to town while the dark of night had a reasonable hidden.

A new plan was in order. One that could have only been hatched by the Three Stooges, or the two present idiots. With our smelly clothes tied into plastic bags, and a couple of thin dishtowels we had scrounged up on the boat, to lay over our laps, we headed into town trying to beat the dawn. We were desperate to get into our homes while it was still dark. This ill-starred strategy was not even remotely saddled with any kind of intelligence. This one totally outdistanced all of our previous standards of boneheaded behavior.

So, now you have the picture, and it is a hideous, unseemly one indeed. Two adult (although seemingly maturity-impaired) men, naked and still dripping wet, sitting the vinyl bucket seats of an old car, speeding towards town trying to beat the sunrise. In my business, people are granted divorces and jail sentences for much less.

It was still dark, but the eastern sky was getting pink as we squealed around the corner on to the pavement from a gravel road and “put the pedal to the metal.”  That was when we saw we saw the red flashing lights in the rear view mirror.  This was no trifling event.  It froze me into a helpless blob. If ever there was a time for some sweat of anxiety and worry – this was it.

If you ever want to know what humble feels like, you should try sitting at the wheel of a car with all your clothes in the back seat next to a naked person of the same sex and a law enforcement officer striding towards your window.

Mookie and I sat there in stony, embarrassed silence as we both wondered what state we could move to when the word of this hit the street.

The officer bent over and peered into the window.  He had an expression on his face like he was sucking lemons. I doubt that any alibi we could come up with would have done much good. But he was a volunteer fireman too and had been out to the site of the fire, so he merely said:

“I don’t even want to f____ing want to know!  Now, will you two yayhoos get home!  RIGHT NOW!!

We did.

Gratitude was flowering in my heart and my sagging faith in the benevolence of man was reinforced. Never in the history of mankind has an opportunity for a man to keep his mouth shut been so appreciated. He owed us nothing but the two guys in that car owed him a big debt of gratitude. We actually went on to lead semi-normal lives.

Thank you, Dennis.

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