Neighborliness in Cantwell, by Sue Mattson.

Son Joel and wife Sue live in a seniors’ park in Olympia, Washington. Collecting residents’ stories of neighborliness is a park project .  Here’s Sue’s story, modified for space.

It was December. Fairbanks was cold, dark, and snowy. Joel and I had decided to take our three young kids to my parents’ home in Bellevue, Washington for our Christmas break. To save on airfare, we decided to drive the 350 miles to Anchorage, which meant driving back on our return.

When we returned to the long-term outdoor parking lot, the car started with no coaxing and we set out for home through heavy wet snow. No problem—we had studded tires. The van slogged along fine–until it didn’t. It went slower and slower and soon wouldn’t go at all. We made it to the side of the road just south of the town of Cantwell half-way home.  This was long before cell phones so there was nothing to do but flag down a passing motorist.

The first one stopped—a pickup. Lacking room for all of us, Joel rode to Cantwell to see if he could round up a tow-truck. I waited in the car with the kids. We had warm snow gear and plenty of gas to run the engine for heat.

Cantwell is a lodge, gas station, and bar; no tow truck. Joel went to the bar and announced that his wife and kids were stuck at the side of the road a few miles south. Would anyone drive him down to fetch them? The patrons looked at one another. A lady said, “None of us are in any shape to drive in this storm, but here are my keys. Go get them”

The story ends happily: The van fixed itself. Engine heat had melted the wet snow that had jammed the wheel wells, impacting the wheels. The lodge at Cantwell had room for us. We got a good night’s rest while the storm fizzled itself out. And the gas station garage had space for our car. It was cozy warm when we set out in the morning. We made in home with no further trouble.

I never learned the name of the strangers who drove Joel a ride to Cantwell or trusted Joel with her car, but I will certainly never forget them. They knew the meaning of neighborliness.