Strangers no more

This article appears in the See for Yourself feature series. View the full series.

"You found a comfortable spot."

I look up, see a fellow in grease-covered T-shirt and jeans, and I say, "Indeed. I'll share this bench with you," as I slide over so he can share the seat.

"Oh, thank you, ma'am, but I’m afraid if I do sit down I won’t get up again — and I have lots to do." However, he did sit on the bench and we continued the conversation, strangers no longer. We were at an outdoor community fair and the bench was a welcome spot.

"I repair truck and tractor engines," he said. "I farm for a living and do the engine repair work on the side. It's funny how that all started. A buddy and me attended the county fair about 25 years ago. We were just walking around, mostly looking at the tractors and farm equipment on display. One of the vendor's wives was in a wheelchair using a lift to get into their van. It was a really hot day, but the A/C in the van wasn't working. We felt sorry for them sitting in the hot car, with her in a wheelchair and all, so we easily fixed the A/C by recharging the unit. The vendor was appreciative but said that he wasn't paying us because he couldn't afford it. We said the repair was free because they needed it. Then a few months later he got in touch to see if we could fix engines, and of course we could, and we've been working on his truck fleet ever since. So that's where I'm headed right now to go back and work on another engine. His trucks pull some of the concessions at this fair."

As he shares his story, I take in the whole person that this man is. His hands have engine oil and dirt embedded around his fingernails and in the creases. His glasses are slightly crooked. His brown hair is about an inch long and sticks straight out all around his head, like a halo.  And he exudes a special charm from his honesty and his unpretentiousness.

"Isn't it wonderful how that one act of kindness led to a lifetime of work opportunity?" I observe.

"Who knew?" he responded. "But that’s not why we fixed the guy's A/C. They needed it fixed, and we knew how to fix it. So why shouldn't we fix it? I'd sure want somebody to help me."

I ask, "When did you first learn how to fix engines?"

"Oh, man, I've been wrenching my entire life. I grew up on a farm. Our equipment wasn't that good, so it was breaking down a lot. I remember helping my dad fix things ever since I was a little kid. Seems like every day we had to fix something. So this has been my life. Well, it's been nice talking to you but I better get back to work now. If I can ever fix anything for you, just let me know. I'm Bob.”

[Nancy Linenkugel is a Sylvania Franciscan sister and chair of the department of Health Services Administration at Xavier University, Cincinnati Ohio.]