I LEARNED the meaning of Thanksgiving one cold, rainy night while spinning wheels in the mud.
The smell of burning rubber made me cough as I banged my fists against my --board in anger. I had just missed my exit, and in a moment of stupidity, I had decided to try and turn around by cutting across the grassy median.
It had been raining all night, and as soon as I go halfway across the strip, the rear wheels of my '72 Gremlin sank deep into the soft ground.
It was 3 a.m., and I had been driving back from New Jersey after having finished a gig in a new nightclub there. Unfortunately, the club had just filed bankruptcy leaving me, a guitar player who had been stiffed out of another week's pay, with only two wrinkled dollar bills and 15 cents in the pocket of my yellow striped bell-bottoms.
I was returning to Baltimore to see my mother for Thanksgiving, but there was more. I was fed up with my life as a musician, and I desperately needed to make it home once again so I could at least try to regroup and point myself in another direction.
As I pushed my gas pedal to the floor, my transmission made the ominous grinding sound of metal against metal. I found myself marooned in the middle of an island of muck, alone and afraid.
Just then, I noticed an old, red pick-up truck slow down and pull over to the shoulder of the road. I heard its squeaky door open, and I tried to make out the shadowy figure slowly hobbling toward me.
It was a man on a crutch, and as he came closer I saw his glistening, dark face.
The black man standing in front of me had one leg, the other had been amputated at his thigh.
"Can I give you a hand?"
I went on to explain, in an embarrassed fashion, the cause of my predicament.
"Let me get some rope." He blinked, not seeming to hear my lamentations.
Coming back, he tied one end of a thick rope to my front bumper and the other end to his back bumper. Then he and I both pushed our accelerators slowly to the floor. Each time we nearly succeeded, but just as I was almost out of the ditch, my car lost traction and slid back into the hole.
He slowly walked back, and as he stood there leaning on his crutch scratching his head, another set of headlights pulled over to the side.
I spotted the Georgia tag as two young soldiers from the Southland trotted over to offer their assistance.
Conferring with my good Samaritan, the tall soldier with short blond hair and a southern drawl suggested that he and his friend might push my car from behind while I and my partner slowly accelerated.
We tried again. This time as my car began to slip the two soldiers pushed hard. The result was that I finally broke free of the mud just as the rope between my car and the red pick-up snapped.
I jumped out of my car elated. My new friend grinned as the two mud-splashed soldiers slapped each other on the back.
I thanked the three of them profusely until they became silent. I told them that all the money I had in the world was two dollars and they were welcome to it. But they refused, laughing it off as they walked away. I ran over to the pick-up truck and asked the fTC man for his name and address so I could at least send him the money to replace his rope.
"Hey, that's not necessary. It's Thanksgiving. Don't you know the meaning of Thanksgiving?" I shrugged my shoulders not knowing what to say.
"You show you're thankful for your own good fortune by passing it on to somebody else in need." He smiled at me as he got into his pick-up.
"Just pass it on, brother," he said.
Chet Dembeck writes from Baltimore.