An American Classic

I deeply distrust unexpected knocks on the door, especially after dark. So when Thomas M. McCabe the Second (not “Jr.”) hammered for entry on the night before the night before Christmas, I was mostly all “oh fuck go away” and hoping it was one of the nabes with misdelivered mail.

Thomas M. McCabe the Second was over seventy, gray of hair, stooped of shoulder, caparisoned in a satiny Redskins jacket and visibly distraught. He wanted to know if he could use our phone. In these days of cell phones this sort of thing happens less often than it used to, although there’s been one other instance in the last couple of years. Thomas McCabe, however, really needed help. He was shaking in a way that would have done credit to an advanced Parkinson’s patient and he really did not seem to be tracking. He had two flat tires, he said. Went over something. I think he actually must have blown them both on the curb of the median.

The Engineer got a phone handset and the ritual of calling the insurance company and summoning a tow truck began. He had been at a Christmas party thrown by his ex wife where he got to see all his kids and grandkids, said Thomas McCabe. Oughta be home by now. Had this car five years, never a problem. He kept apologizing for all the shaking.

“Shake like crazy if you want,” I coached him. “This happens it’s a specialty of mine. The shakin is part of the shock reaction. It’s what gets you a re-set. You just let it happen till it’s done.”

You detect I was diverting into my American Old Home dialect because that is what I heard coming from him. If you talk to me under normal conditions you will hear something that sounds vaguely academic crossed with the BBC accent, though I invoke American Redneck at the drop of a hat.

Thomas M. McCabe, I learned over the ensuing hour, hailed from the Canaan Valley in West Virginia before moving here. He was seventy-six. His folks had been in WV long enough they pretty much dominated the land holdings around where he grew up. He had served in the Air Force, I’m figuring Vietnam era.

“Most days, I just wear jeans, but I dressed all up for the party,” he said ruefully as the chilly December breezes blew through our clothes out on the porch where we were keeping an eye out for the tow truck.

The Engineer did the yeoman work: accepting a text message from the insurance company showing the tow company’s provenance and destination, writing down details, knocking on the neighbors’ door to ask if they could move their pickup and make space for the tow truck to hitch up. I just kept telling Thomas M. McCabe that for crying out loud, why are we here if we aren’t gonna look out for each other?

“Well that’s what I think,” he said. But he was still painfully over-grateful when we dropped him at his apartment ten minutes away, after a fairly complicated interaction with the driver of a flatbed tow truck and an expedition to a garage behind some desiderate Seven-Eleven off the local state highway. He seemed not to have taken in that the insurance was going to spot him a rental to be delivered in the morning, and remarked that he’d have to eat sparingly till he could get to the market. I kept reminding him that he could not only get to the market with his rental car but to all his family’s holiday events. He kept thanking us for helping and writing things down.

He asked if he owed us anything.

“Will y’all HUSH?” I rebounded without even thinking. From his reaction, it was the right way to say it.

I wanted to hug him, but that didn’t seem like his style or generation.

He debarked from the Engineer’s car, carrying a bag of O’Doul’s Dark and a tray of fudge that his family had pressed on him. I can imagine worse hangovers.



10 thoughts on “An American Classic

    • I debate calling him tomorrow to see how the whole thing shook out. Like, it was just a chance, no one is looking for a New Best Friend, but I have to wonder if the car repair went OK and he was able to do all his Christmas plans that he was stressing about. He was such a basically nice guy to have walk into your life briefly. I have so little faith in humans, it was a shot in the arm.

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