Letter: Even after so many years, Minnesota Nice still shines through

Published 7:53 am Thursday, August 22, 2019

By Linda Mathews

Des Moines, Iowa

I was 39 and single in the summer of 1998, and I didn’t feel like staying home, so I thought I’d take a long weekend and drive from Des Moines to Burnsville, Minnesota to see my brother and his wife.  It would be another few months before I would marry my husband, whom I had been dating five years. We were taking a break as he considered whether or not we should marry.  Being the good German that he is, he is not impulsive.

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I was driving a Chevy Celebrity that I had owned for a while.  It did fine on the trip until I was headed home.  While admiring the beautiful scenery near the Mississippi, my check engine light came on.  It was Sunday morning, but I happened to find a station open in Red Wing.  My question was, “Should I try driving home with this light on?”  The answer, “Inconclusive until Monday when they could diagnose it.”  It might be fine or it might not.  Not wanting a delay, I headed for home.

About five miles outside of Austin, my car started to choke.  I was able to coast it to the side of the road before it stalled completely.  I put my hood up remembering the news story of a young woman who had recently disappeared while driving on this very interstate. I went back and sat in the car, weighing my options.  Very soon, someone pulled up behind me, got out, walked up to my window and tapped on it.  I didn’t even turn my head to look at him; I just looked ahead and shook my head “no” while clutching the steering wheel. He left.  I had to figure something out.

Cell phones were still in our future.  What I needed was something called a landline!  On my right, I could see a farmhouse in the distance.  To get there, I would have to walk through a ditch, climb a fence then walk through a field, but I thought this was my best option.  I locked the car and started walking.  It was a nice day, and I made it there in about 10-15 minutes. 

The farmhouse was older with fresh white paint, a large yard and mature trees. I knocked but no one answered.  I could see a man using a skid loader near the outbuildings.  I went over and sat on the side steps and waited.  The man saw me, stopped what he was doing and walked over.  He said he was just working here and that the man who owned the house was gone but should be back pretty soon.  He offered to drive me into town to use a phone. I got the impression that any reason to drive into town was a fun thing and he was more than willing to do it.  Having grown up on a farm, I totally understood this feeling. I thanked him, but said I thought I would wait. If nothing else happened, I would take him up on the offer.

A short while later, the owner of the house drove up.  He was a nice-looking man no older than 45.  He let me use the phone in that wonderful old farmhouse kitchen to call Triple A, who said they would dispatch a tow truck from Austin.  They would be here within half an hour.  As I thanked him and prepared to leave, he said something to the effect of, “If we can’t help each other, what have we got?”  Simple enough words but the way he said them, coupled with the relief I felt, left an impression of kindness I will never forget.  I headed out to walk back to the car and wait for the tow truck.

A short while later it arrived and I got into the front passenger seat for the ride to Austin. We went to a gas station and the mechanic gave the grim diagnosis. “We can fix it, but the car is not really worth it.”  What to do?

He suggested a car dealership down the road.  I left my car at the station and someone dropped me off at the car dealership where I started test driving used cars.

A sports car at first, then a Buick that was already well used, but still very comfortable compared to the sports car.  The price of the Buick was over my credit card limit, but incredibly, another nice person from Austin trusted me and let me write him a check.

A few months later, my husband and I drove this same car to our wedding.

Sometime, I’ll have to visit those nice folks in Austin, Minnesota again.