When I was young, maybe ten or eleven, my dad and I went to a thrift store in town. We went to these kinds of places a lot. I’d rifle through the old stuffed animals and boardgames missing half their pieces looking for my big find while my dad perused electronics and the men’s clothing sections, mostly looking for jackets. He’d lift me up to occasionally look at the glass knickknacks housed on the shelves placed on top of the clothing racks. Ceramic cats were one of my favorite things to find. Thrift stores always felt different than our trips to Toys ‘R’ Us or Walmart. Here, I could touch anything I wanted and I never had to worry about the thing I wanted being more than $20, the standard amount for an excursion. However, despite the fact that everything was more accessible, nothing at the thrift stores ever felt lesser than the things at Toys ‘R’ Us. Whatever I left with, I loved it as much. The things sometimes felt a little mystic because I knew that my new bear/doll/game had a life before it came to me.
After checking out one day, we walked out of the store and into the cold parking lot. It was dark, the chilling wind stung my face and the parking lot was basically empty as all the stores had already closed. As I walked close to my father, I noticed a man a few yards in front of us, leaning into the open-hooded car in front of him.
“Baby girl, go hop in the truck, I’ll be there in a second. Here, take the keys and start it.”
With that, my dad walked off, headed towards the stranger. I kept looking back at them as I waddled to the truck, cold and clutching my new whatever. I could feel myself getting anxious. I thought maybe Dad knew this guy, that was the only logical reason my nervous brain could think of. Why else would he approach a total stranger in the dark with no one else around? The truck windshield began to fog as the heater came to life and my view of Dad and the strange man became muddied as the lights of the parking lot reflected across the glass.
After what seemed like an eternity, but was most likely about 8 minutes, my dad pulled open the drivers side door, rubbing his hands together in an attempt to ebb the chilling pain in his hands.
“Who was that guy?” I asked, relief flooding me as I realized tonight would not become an episode of Forensics Files.
“Not sure, I didn’t get his name,” Dad replied nonchalantly, flipping on the headlights and pulling the gearshift.
“Well then why did you help him?” I asked, confused as to why he put not only himself, but me in danger.
“Because he needed help,” he said, eyes focused on the road home.
“But why did you have to do it? Someone else could’ve helped him,” I huffed, my young mind annoyed.
Dad looked over at me, his brow furrowed. “Because,” he began, his serious tone extremely evident in his voice, “When somebody needs help, you help them. Or they could be waiting on a ‘someone else’ who might never come.”
I could tell the conversation was over. I glanced behind me and saw the other man pulling out of the parking lot, driving away from us. I wondered what he bought at the thrift store before realizing his car wouldn’t start. I wondered how long he would’ve sat there if Dad hadn’t helped him. But then I stopped wondering. Because he was headed home, just like us.