Here we were - a group of unsophisticated teenagers - planning to go to Florida during our Thanksgiving break. It didn't matter to us that it was 17 hours & 36 minutes or 1,120.9 miles from NJ via I-95 S. We had a pretty good car, there were four of us and what could go wrong?
Nothing went wrong on the way down with all our singing and happiness. Our funds allowed us only a couple of overnight hotel days, enough for gas/tolls and we were confident. We had a great time until it was time to go home to be there for Thanksgiving. We allowed a day to travel back with gas and food - but forgot about the tolls. Money was diminishing quickly.
To make up for disappearing monies, we cut down on food and decided to drive at night instead of stopping to sleep. I remember my turn taking the wheel and fighting to keep my eyes open. We stopped at an open diner at about 1:00 am on Thanksgiving Eve. Half asleep, we were approached by a handsome man in cowboy garb who introduced himself - he was about 7 years older than we were. He said he spotted us 'driving all over the road" while he was taking some ponies back to his pony farm. He pointed to his truck which was indeed his name and his farm's name. He said he would keep an eye on us as we were approaching the state of North Carolina. Thinking, he said he would be right back; when he returned, he said he called his wife, Barbara, and they would like us to have Thanksgiving with them in NC. Being from a northern city, we were leery and alert that we did not know this man or his wife. He insisted we follow him and with high suspicion, we followed him - it was 4 against 1 plus we knew we wouldn't get home in time, had no money left for tolls and we were plumb tired.
When he pulled up in front of his beautiful farmhouse, and, yes, there was a sign outside proclaiming his name and "Pony Farm", his wife, Barbara came out and welcomed us. Still NJ leery, we were shown to our rooms (each had its own bathroom) and told what time dinner was ready. Dinner was at his father's house not far from his own. The dinner was perfection of Southern charm & cuisine. Our host, Herb, still in his cowboy hat, played the guitar and entertained the group while we were finishing off our dinner of Barbara's home-made peach ice cream. This was Southern Hospitality.
The next day, they hugged us good-bye with good wishes, and a $20 bill was found in the visor as we drove away.
We kept in touch all these decades later and each Thanksgiving I send them flowers. We were invited back when we married and had families. They have a cottage near their pool in their backyard and many years later, we and our kids spent some quality time with them and sometimes at our homes. Although we were Catholic and they were Baptist, we attended their church and they ours -- on the Sabbath.
Herb has passed away but Barbara and I keep in touch and sometimes visit. I wrote on her Thanksgiving card this year and reminded her that our story of their caring and sharing Thanksgiving with us is repeated at every Thanksgiving meal. Whoever hears it knows that not only did it affect the original four of us but is repeated to others . Hopefully, sharing and caring will go forward as it does with our friends and family.
"Then the righteous will answer him, 'Lord, when did we see see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you?" Matthew 25:31-40
Marie Coppola November 2018