Herald and Journal, Dec. 6, 1999

Chivalry alive on Highway 12


The other day I came home and set my purse on the top of my car as I took my groceries out. All of a sudden, I realized that I hadn't done that in years.

Here's something I wrote back in 1991 that will explain why:

The blustery winds and blowing snow of the recent Halloween blizzard took me back to an incident that happened on Highway 12 early this year. Believe me, anyone who thinks chivalry is dead should have been with me in my Olds station wagon on January 12, 1991.

Christmas vacation was finally over. That morning I had packed the kids back to school, jumping up and clicking my heels with happiness as they went out the door.

By afternoon I was firmly replanted in the daily routine of the Fink household. After grocery shopping in Delano, I rushed home to make supper. As I hurried into the house clutching my grocery bags, I realized that I had left my purse in the car.

"It's okay," I thought, "I have to pick Lisa up after gymnastics practice."

As I threw something together for supper, I declared, "Another gourmet meal prepared by Sue Fink!"

No doubt Tom and the girls would be thrilled. Before I knew it, it was 5:15. I would be late meeting Lisa at the high school. I visualized our mad dash back home to inhale our food, and our rush out to the barn, where 40 impatient cows would be waiting to be milked.

Throwing on my coat and boots, I ran out to the car. Frigid wind gusts swirled snow up around my ears. I was glad the car was still somewhat warm from the earlier trip to town.

Pausing for the stop sign on County Road 92, I saw an unbroken string of headlights rapidly approaching from the east on Highway 12. As I stomped on the gas, I looked in the rear view mirror to see how close the oncoming cars were. Just then I saw something fly off the top of my rapidly accelerating vehicle.

"Probably snow," I thought.

Another glance in the rear view mirror told me otherwise. The guy behind me was flashing his lights at me!

With a sick feeling, I quickly checked the seat and floor of the car. No purse!

As I pulled over to the shoulder of the highway, a small truck and a compact car pulled in behind. Red-faced, I climbed from the car to hear confirmation of what I already had guessed.

"I'm sorry, but I think I just hit your purse," the man from the small truck said, apologetically.

"I know," I replied. "I must have set in on top of the car when I took my groceries out this afternoon."

There was no way to turn around or cross the steady stream of traffic with my big wagon. The small truck darted across and drove down the opposite shoulder of the highway. The compact car followed as I jogged down the side of the highway to search for the remains of my purse. It seemed like miles.

The two men had gotten out of their vehicles and were standing by the intersection. We stood there waiting for a break in the traffic. The stream of cars seemed to flow by endlessly, each one doing a number on my purse. Finally, a semi administered the coup de grace as I stood by, helplessly bidding farewell to my nice, black, leather purse.

Seeing a gap in the cars, I ran out, scooped up my shattered belongings, and scrambled to the opposite side of the highway. My purse was smashed flat and had been burst open on one end. I looked inside for my billfold. It was still there, though crushed and bent. My makeup was no longer recognizable. The novel false teeth key ring my son had given me for my birthday was pulverized into pink plastic particles.

"I wonder what that used to be," I said as blue plastic shards skittered along the frozen asphalt.

"I think it used to be a comb," one of the men offered.

Being a devout coupon clipper, I had stuffed the front pocket of my purse with coupons. Now they blew everywhere, offering bargains to anyone who could catch them. My two helpers chased after them, no doubt thinking they might be papers I needed. At that moment I didn't know whether to laugh or to cry.

"I don't think any of those papers are important," I said.

At least I could feel relieved that I had deposited the checks in the bank on my previous trip to town.

"My billfold is here," I told my two benefactors. "I can't think of anything that might be missing."

I thanked them both for stopping to help me and turned to jog back to my car.

I was surprised to see that the compact car was following me. The small truck followed on the opposite shoulder of the highway. They both waited until I was safely back in my car and on my way. We never even exchanged names, but to me they were like knights in shining armor, coming to my aid. No, chivalry is not dead, not even during rush hour on west Highway 12.

Of course, times have changed since that story was written. Now I'm among the cars heading home at night in that long line of headlights. Traffic is worse, and people seem less civil these days.

If this happened today, would the results be the same? I like to think so.

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