As I get older I devour any stories about my parents or extended family. I yearn to understand as much as possible about who I am and the people I came from. It's not that I don't know who I am or where I came from. I'm one of the lucky people who get to say their folks are still married. I grew up living with both of my parents but being young and self absorbed as only the young can be, I always saw them as just my parents whose purpose in life was to take care of me.
Now that I'm older and a parent myself this great thing has happened and I see my parents through a lens that has somehow been focused and I see them for who they are and always have been. Normal people with kind hearts who've struggled at times and shined at other times. Regular people who had many purposes in life beyond raising me.
Recently I asked my dad about defining moments in his life and told me a story that I spent a large part of my life with no idea it had ever happened.
It was the early 1980s. Before social media, before things went instantly viral on a daily basis, and before a heartwarming story was easy to find simply by clicking on Facebook. In fact, Mark Zuckerburg was no more than a twinkle in his father's pants when this happened...
Like I said, it was the early 1980s. My dad had worked in the car business my whole life. That year he had been the general manager for a high end Lincoln dealership that also had a used car lot. There was a few car dealerships located side-by-side together on "dealership row" and they were all always busy. I asked my dad once why car dealerships always seem to be located right next to another one, right next to the competition. He told me it works better that way and everybody gets more business by being clustered together. If people don't find what they're looking for at one dealership there's a good chance they'll find it at the one next door. It's a give and take and all the dealerships win.
Now, it was a cold, brutal MN winter that year and around 8:00pm a man came in through the door with three young girls bundled up behind him. The man and the girls looked tired, cold, and all had runny noses from the weather. My dad approached them and asked the man if he could help him.
The man told my dad they were there to buy $10 worth of raffle tickets for the "Used Car Winter Raffle" he had read about in the newspaper. He then pulled out a carefully folded up ten dollar bill and extended it toward my dad.
Here's where the problem was. The "Used Car Winter Raffle" didn't take place at my dad's dealership. It had taken place at the dealership next door and the raffle had already been done and a winner was picked the weekend before. In his hope, the man had honestly gotten the dates wrong.
As my dad explained this to him he watched the man crumple right before him. He saw a man with hope in his eyes turn into a defeated soul. It appeared this was the straw that broke this man's back. The man, clearly embarrassed, began to sob right in front of my father. He explained that he lost his wife and was a single father struggling to make ends meet. He and his girls had traveled over 3 hours on a bus to get to the dealership. Despite having a job that he walked to every day, he was flat broke and this was his only hope of getting any sort of transportation for himself and his girls. With tears running down his face he asked my father if it was ok if he and his girls waited in the warm dealership for another 15 minutes until they could catch the next bus for the ride back home.
Of course, my dad let them stay and escorted them to the lounge where he poured the man a hot cup of coffee and gave each of the girls a cup of hot chocolate. Then he excused himself and left the man and his three daughters there in the lounge and gave the man a chance to collect himself in private.
My dad immediately went in the dealership owner's office and told him what had happened. He told the owner he had an idea - Why not give the man one of the used cars that they had taken in on a trade and had just been sitting on the lot for a couple of weeks? How about they help this man and give him that car. Free of charge.
The owner looked at my dad for a minute, mulled it over, made up his mind, and said sure. Why not? Let's do it.
So that night that man, with a shocked smile still on his face and official car papers in his pocket, left with his three daughters strapped into the backseat of his new used car.
There was a glow in the heart of three separate men, all fathers, bonded together in this simple gift on that brutally cold winter night.
The story didn't end there. Apparently, the gracious man wrote a beautiful letter to the editor of the major Twin Cities newspaper and told the story of what happened to him and his daughters at this particular dealership. How kindness and understanding, help and support was given to him. All because the general manager and the owner chose to help him when they didn't have to. How car salesmen, who often get the worst preconceived notions in the world about them, were the kindest and most understanding men he had the good fortune to meet in one of the darkest times of his life and how he would like to publicly thank them.
The heartwarming letter was published in the newspaper and was picked up shortly and republished by the Associated Press. Before "viral stories" were a thing - it went old school viral and that letter was picked up again and again and published in independent newspapers all over the world.
Then the most wonderful thing happened. Donations starting arriving to the dealership addressed to the man and his daughters. $5 here, $10 there. Over and over. Thousands of dollars from strangers all over the world. My father collected it all and made sure the man got every last dollar. In turn, becasue of this unexpected letter to the newspaper, the dealership had record sales for the next year from customers wanting to spend their money at that particular dealership.
My dad explained to me how that was one example of a great moment in his life.
When my dad told me that story I don't think he realized what a gift it was for me. I get to forever hold tight to this beautiful example of my dad's heart shining bright for a complete stranger and his three daughters. I grew up with my father and always knew he was a kind man to me and my family members. Now I know there was this wonderful incident when he was just as kind to a complete stranger and I get to see my father in that extended light for the rest of my life.