My car is 4 years old. Ruby named it Pepper-car several years ago, as it’s a bright red and kinda resembles a chili pepper. The car was and is an answer to prayer from 2008, when we were essentially without wheels. Yesterday, a neighbor backed into my car. Jonathon had moved it temporarily and parked it on the street.
I had no idea. I was blissfully ensconced in a novel I bought for the trip back from Minneapolis, feverishly trying to figure out the secret that made a 17-year-old girl decide to drive her Jeep off a cliff in Nantucket with 3 of her best friends in it.
Jonathon worked outside, building a planter box. After a week of sitting around and driving places, he needed to move around and make something with his hands. The chainsaw whined, then stopped. I heard a conversation going on outside, started up by someone else. I was too tired and probably too lazy to get up and discover the source.
“Hey, Sue.” Jonathon sat down on the couch next to me. He looked wary.
“One of our neighbors backed into your car. ”
My eyes widened but I said nothing. And what now? I wanted to know.
I should mention our closest neighbors live in a yellow five-plex next door. We share a gargantuan laurel hedge, the property border. Every family in the unit is Hispanic, and several children frolic in the yard. We don’t speak Spanish; very few of them speak English. In addition, they keep different hours, often chugging away to work around 5:00 a.m. Communication has been sparse at best. They lead quiet lives and keep to themselves. No drunken karaoke parties or drum circles like the former tenants. We liked these newer folks just fine.
“The guy who dented your car doesn’t speak English very well. His daughter apologized to me. She’s gonna come apologize to you as well. She knows it wasn’t my car.”
Guess they noticed I drove the red Saturn Vue the majority of the time. I do wave and smile. I’m not a complete ogre. I can manage that much, as well as hello, goodbye and thank you. And my name.
Okay. Jonathon called and left a message with our insurance company, as it was a Sunday.
Suddenly, someone rapped on our front door. Jonathon opened it. A young Hispanic woman stood there, a little girl of about 5 at her side, another girl toddler on her hip.
“Hi”, she smiled. “I’m the one who hit your car. I’m so sorry.” She spoke perfect English with only the merest trace of an accent.
I invited her in and we chatted for a few minutes. I tried to reserve any judgment and refrain from getting angry. I was still jet-lagged, and my emotions tended to run the gamut from total numbness to ridiculous rage to potential weeping. Self-control, the most ignored fruit of the Spirit ever. Jesus, help!
“My dad was driving his van”, Andromeda explained. Hey! It’s my story. I can give her any name I want to.
“My daughter (the tiny girl on her hip) wasn’t bucked in, and she was walking around. He got distracted and that’s when he hit your car.”
Aha. Makes sense. Jonathon and I nodded. Kids in the car can be distracting, especially when they’re loose.
“We can make payments. We don’t have a lot of money. We came here from Guatemala and we pick brush. The price of brush has gone down to 40 or 50 cents a bundle.”
All three sets of brown eyes looked at me. All I could think of was how very blessed we are. We don’t do seasonal work in fields. In fact, these are jobs most Americans *won’t* do, which is one reason why migrant workers do them instead. I teared up as I thought of how she was putting herself out there, apologizing to this strange lady. It takes humility to admit when you make a mistake, especially a huge one. I’ve had to do it myself when I dented other cars. It ain’t easy.
“We will talk to our insurance company and make it as easy on everyone as possible,” I promised. It made no sense to me to report it to the police or get into a snit. What if it had happened to me? How would I want to be treated? Wouldn’t I want grace and kindness instead of recrimination?
I know I would.
Andromeda’s smile dazzled. She told me what she pays in rent and we chatted a bit more. She complemented us on our house and I realized anew how very blessed we are. I’m betting someday, Andromeda has a house of her own, too. She’s got the right stuff.