Thursday, November 17, 2011

Turkeys, transmissions and giving thanks

With all the turkey talk he’s heard lately, my barely-six-year old son has been thinking things over. All that thought resulted in a realization he was eager to share with me, “Mom! Guess what? There are two kinds of turkeys -- the kind you eat, and the animal kind!”

And so I had to do more talking of a more delicate kind, the kind that’s difficult to swallow for a sweet 6-year-old idealist.

The fact that my son’s thoughts revolve around the Thanksgiving table spread reflects the painful reality that I, once again, have been caught up in letting guest accommodation and menu planning details eclipse the original purpose of remembering to give thanks.

In an effort to re-prioritize, I’ve been discussing gratitude with my kids. As soon as we shifted from talking about things to talking about people, one person came to everyone’s mind: Jeff, the service manager at Christian Brothers Automotive in Flower Mound, Texas.

Here’s why.

In August, I set out on a 22-hour road trip with a van full of kids. My husband was planning on joining us a week later for a family reunion. Our transmission died a mere six hours into the trip, leaving us stranded in 100+ degree heat next to a corn field just outside of Amarillo, TX.

Since our transmission had been rebuilt by our local highly-respected and trusted service station, we were surprised. And because it had only been four months since the repair, we were upset. To make matters infinitely worse, we discovered just before the close of business at the end of that long and frustrating day that transmissions were the single line item not covered under our service station’s warranty.

In retrospect, we should have read all the fine print and asked more questions before authorizing the repair. But as it stood, we found ourselves in quite a pickle. The only solutions we could think of -- paying for another transmission, purchasing or renting another vehicle or flying to our destination -- far exceeded our vacation budget and seemed impossible.

With the help of a hotel employee, I managed to figure out a way for the kids to have fun that night despite the stress. But after the kids were asleep, I cried. I had no idea what we were going to do come morning.

Jeff, the manager of our local service station, came to our rescue in several unexpected ways. The first step he took was to have our van towed to a franchise location of their shop in Amarillo, where mechanics worked on it for several hours.

After multiple phone calls over the course of the day, Jeff wasn’t convinced that the shop in Amarillo had thoroughly solved the mechanical issues, so he urged us to drive back so he could have his own transmission mechanic take a look.

It was the last thing on this planet I wanted to do, but we loaded back into the van and drove the six long hours back that night.

Jeff was waiting for us at the service station. The first thing he said was, “I called everyone in my prayer group last night and asked them to pray that you and your van full of kids would get back safely.”

When the van was finally properly diagnosed, repaired and ready to be picked up, I was worried about the final bill. But when I walked into the shop, all that Jeff handed me were the keys. He had absorbed every single expense. There had been nothing -- either written or implied -- that required him to lift a finger for us. But he did it anyway.

I stumbled over my words, trying to articulate how much I appreciated what he had done for us. Jeff looked me in the eyes and simply said, “It was the right thing to do.”

I’m profoundly grateful that my kids experienced Jeff’s generosity first-hand. In honor of Jeff and so many other kind-hearted people in this world, our family is currently making plans to pay it forward in our own small way during this holiday season.

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