By Jim Dennis 

St. Andrew’s Jim Dennis recalls a farmer’s gift of kindness that he was encouraged to payback.

mike-alonzo-photo Payback ChainMy parents lived in the village of Mirror, east of Lacombe, AB. To celebrate Christmas with them in 1964, my wife and I took our eight-month-old daughter and drove down from Edmonton. We had a great celebration. My parents were happy to see their new grandchild, my Mom was a great cook and we all had a wonderful visit. On December 26, it was time to leave because I had to get back to work.

After lunch, we got packed up and said good-bye. The local gas stations were all closed for the holidays but I figured that I had enough gas to get to Wetaskiwin. What I didn’t realize was that the road would be covered in an inch or so of snow. I ran out of gas about five miles short of the gas station.

Now, we were stuck in the cold in a dead car. I can walk at five MPH but two hours in the cold would be too much for my wife and baby. The first vehicle that stopped was a farm truck. I asked the driver for a ride to Wetaskiwin because I had run out of gas. He said: There is someone in the car.”  I said, “Yes, my wife and baby daughter so I have to get back quickly before they freeze.” He said, “We can do better than that.” He backed his truck up to the car, pulled out a chain and towed us to the gas station. I offered to pay him for saving our lives but I think he noticed that there was very little money in my wallet. He said, “That’s OK but when you can afford it, buy a chain.” The rest of our trip home went smoothly but  I never forgot the kindness and advice of that farmer. I soon bought a nice stout chain that I call my payback chain.

It was many years later, my wife had died, my children had grown up and I was living alone on an acreage just west of the Calgary city limits. At that time, St. Andrew’s Church hosted Inn from the Cold which took in homeless people and provided a warm dinner, a bed for the night and a hearty breakfast. A man and woman from the church would volunteer to stay awake all night in case of an emergency. I volunteered for that duty and made lasting connections with the other night-time volunteers. When the breakfast crew came, we could go home and catch up on sleep. One morning, the first of the breakfast crew showed up early and I headed home at 5:30 am.

As I was driving west on 17th Ave, a lonesome road at that time, I saw a car in the ditch. As I passed it, I noticed the lights flashing. I stopped and backed up to see if people needed assistance. Two young men got out and told me that they had been driving back to Calgary when they met a car travelling at high speed down the middle of the road. The only way to avoid a crash was to take the ditch. It was a deep ditch so it was not possible to back out although I could see that they had tried. They said they had been there for about three hours and hadn’t frozen because the engine would still run. They had a small rope and asked if I would pull them back onto the road. I explained that my mini-van wouldn’t pull anything but I had a truck and would come back. My home was about a mile away and I returned with my half-ton Dodge Ram. The boys were waiting. I backed up to the edge of the pavement. They used the shovel that I had brought to dig the snow away and hooked the ‘payback’ chain to their rear axle. The truck had a very substantial trailer hitch so that end was easy. I hitched the chain taunt so the truck would be lifting on the car to give better traction and I pulled the car back onto the road without even spinning a wheel. After an enthusiastic thank you, the boys were on their way to work and I went home to get some sleep. I didn’t even get to tell them that this was only partial payback to a guy who had saved my family’s life many years ago.

I hope someday those boys will have an opportunity to payback another stranger.