Neighbours, and kindness, and help when you need it

flat tire on Highway 7

This is the only photo I took of our itinerary-altering flat tire, and I am wildly disappointed in how poorly it shows just how flat that tire was. But be assured (and we have witnesses): it really couldn’t have been flatter. Just what you need when you’re setting out on a long trip home.

Well! Raymond and I have just had a somewhat more eventful (and longer) weekend in Queensborough than we had planned.

We had expected it to be one of our flying visits, arriving at the Manse after work – okay, after my work; Raymond is now retired, though amazingly busy for all that – late on Friday night, and heading back to Montreal after church at St. Andrew’s United on Sunday. But there was the small matter of a tire flatter than a pancake (discovered through sheer dumb luck, as Professor McGonagall would say, thanks to a spur-of-the-moment pit stop in tiny Kaladar) and unable to be fixed when it’s Sunday and you’re “north of 7” (Highway 7, the Central Ontario Route of the Trans-Canada Highway and also, in Hastings County and points east and west, the demarcation point between, as poet Al Purdy put it, “the fat south/with inches of black soil on/earth’s round belly” and the “bush land scrub land” – the barrenness and, for 19th-century homesteaders, heartbreak of the rocky Canadian Shield). Our flat-tire mishap meant that we had to stay an extra day and night in Queensborough. I had to use up a vacation day from work, but that was all right; we got some stuff done that otherwise would have had to wait, and hey, we got to spend a bit more time in tiny and pretty Queensborough.

But what I wanted to tell you about was not so much our misadventure (or, depending on how you see it, adventure) but the kindness of our Queensborough friends and neighbours.

Having discovered the flattened tire in the hamlet of Kaladar (and mercifully not farther east and in the middle of nowhere, though Kaladar is not that far from the middle of nowhere), we hied our way across Highway 7 to a gas bar with an air pump and filled it right up. And then, figuring we were better off heading back to a place where we have a spare vehicle (Raymond’s red truck) than further east on Highway 7 with a dodgy tire and a road with a whole lot of nothingness on it, and on a Sunday to boot, we turned around and drove back west. But by the time (20 kilometres or so) we’d turned north off 7 onto Queensborough Road, the tire was totally flat again. We couldn’t carry on.

What to do? People, neither of us had ever changed a tire in our lives before. Apparently we had both led a charmed existence on the flat-tire front, until yesterday. We dug out the car manual and tried to figure it out, and more or less did, but executing the tire change was more than we could manage. (Tight lug nuts and whatnot. Don’t get me started.)

As Raymond was making unhappy noises while struggling with all of this, I suddenly thought: Wait a minute. There are people – friends and neighbours – in Queensborough, just a few minutes up the road, who are far more used to dealing with these kinds of situations than we city slickers are. So I called our friend John, who looks after our yard and does a lot of other good maintenance work around Queensborough – you can read about his latest efforts here – and said (to paraphrase, but only just): “HELP!”

And John said: “Chris Moak’s your man. I’ll call him.” Chris owns a busy and successful Queensborough business called Smokey’s Towing, and given the nature of that business has seen and dealt with a lot of car problems. So John kindly called Chris and directed him our way, called me back right straight and said he’d done so, and Chris showed up in no time. And had that spare tire put on in just a few minutes, and gave us some good what-to-do-when-driving-on-a-spare advice.

So we (slowly) drove the crippled car back to the Manse, where Raymond got into the red truck, and we headed off to our Madoc garage, Derry’s Dipsticks and Driveshafts. Odd name, great garage. Excellent service, fair prices, no nonsense. We left the car there with a note explaining its presence so that the Derry’s people would know what was up when they arrived at work Monday morning. And we headed back in the red truck for a quiet evening at the Manse. And while we were doing that, I left a phone message for our across-the-way neighbours Chuck and Ruth, whom we’d seen Sunday morning and to whom we’d announced that we were heading back to Montreal. I didn’t want them to worry that intruders had taken over the Manse when they saw lights in it on Sunday night, which is why I left the message. (Chuck and Ruth were, like pretty much everyone else in the area, off at the Madoc Fair on Sunday afternoon.)

Okay, so it’s mid-Sunday afternoon and we’re back at the Manse, and there’s time for a nice late (very late) breakfast and even a nap. And while I was still napping, but Raymond was up, a knock came at the door. It was Ruth: “We got your message, and we didn’t know if you’d have anything for supper, so I brought you some things.” How lovely is that? Including freshly picked garden tomatoes! And homemade cookies!

We walked over to thank Chuck and Ruth. And then we popped in to see our nearby friends and neighbours Jen and Ed, and we left that visit with a big mason jar of Jen’s just-made spicy black bean soup.

And when we got back to the Manse, I thought: wow.

John being at the other end of the line and knowing just what to do and whom to call, just when we needed it. Chris getting us on the road in no time flat. Ruth and Chuck bringing supper. Jen and Ed always being there, and sending us home with a future supper. In small rural places, like Queensborough, that’s the way it works. People really do help each other out.

This morning, we took the red truck to Dennis Derry’s garage – where he charged us a grand total of $16 and change for fixing the tire. As Raymond says, you couldn’t put a foot in a garage in Montreal for that kind of money. Raymond drove the truck back to the Manse, and I followed him in the newly repaired car. It was a bright sunny day, and the rocky north-of-7 landscape was beautiful.

And I found my eyes filled with tears as I reflected on the kindness and help we have received in this rocky north-of-7 place. What a gift it is for us to have found that place. And more especially, to have found the people, our friends and neighbours, who live there.

14 thoughts on “Neighbours, and kindness, and help when you need it

  1. How wonderful. We are always impressed with the generosity of our neighbours too. Queensborough brings out the best in all of us. Maybe it is because we let our shoulders down and relax enough to do what really matters -build community through helping one another.

    Jo-Ann
    Sent wirelessly from my BlackBerry device on the Bell network.
    Envoyé sans fil par mon terminal mobile BlackBerry sur le réseau de Bell.

    • I think you’ve put your finger on it exactly, Jo-Ann. And also, in a small rural place like Queensborough, people need the help of other people from time to time – and everyone’s turn comes sometimes. What you give when someone else has a problem will be sure to come back to you when you yourself are the one with a problem.

  2. Okay, well, here I am. Still reeling from the name of that garage in Madoc, but I’ll get over it.

    Best advice to you is to get out there and learn how to change a tire. Now. Like, right now. It’s 1:30 in the morning. Giddy up. I won’t sleep until I know that all those lug nuts are lying on the ground…..Oh, who’s kidding who? Of course I’ll sleep. Call me in the morning and tell me how it went. Not too early though. I need my rest.

    • I rather live in hope that I will never have to change a tire, actually. As for Raymond – well, remember that not everyone grew up to have as their first car a constantly-breaking-down ancient VW bug,as most in our family did.

  3. We find it amazing that you could have lived for several or more years and never had to change a tire.

    I recall my first car – half of a well-used 1929 Ford (my buddy owned the other half) had at least one flat every month. We too had a friendly tire repair man in Hamilton who went out of his way to help back in the 1950 era.

    Great to see the friendly neighbours you have and to read about them. You bring life to our view of Queensborough..

    Continuing to enjoy the daily blogs.

    Keep up the good work.

    Gerry & Bev (a member of the Ketcheson clan)

    • Thank you so much, Gerry and Bev! I certainly remember the days when flat tires were a very common thing; I know my dad changed more than his share of them. I’m not sure how I managed to avoid the experience myself throughout my adult (driving-age) life, but no complaints on that front! It’s kind of weird how the replacement tire that comes with cars nowadays is that little thing that can’t be used for very long or at very high speed; I’m sure the replacements that were put on that 1929 Ford (and all of my dad’s old cars) were real tires.

      By the way, Raymond found a lovely gift for me the other day – a vintage copy of the original edition of Historic Hastings! I am hoping I’ll be able to get the author’s signature soon. But meanwhile, what news on where to purchase the updated and reissued edition?

  4. Thanks for the delightful story. However, it is not at all surprising to us natives. When something goes awry in our world the first thought is usually, “who do I know nearby that can help?” Glad it worked out. My advice; never change a tire. Join CAA and leave the worry to someone else.
    Our story; within 45 minutes of when we told our neighbours (our campers) about the death of Gayle’s mother, one of the campers was at the door with three grocery bags! her comment, “you are going to have lots of visitors.” The bags contained, 2 bbq chickens, two large blocks of cheese, one pound of butter, one large jar of pickles and two bags of dinner rolls! She was quickly followed by three more ladies with sandwiches, 2 lasagna dishes, a veggie tray and a fruit tray.
    We can not get along without neighbours!! Keep up the great blog

    • Thanks in turn for a lovely story, Gayle and Grant – and Raymond and I are so sorry to hear of the death of Reta Pitts, Gayle’s mum, who was a truly remarkable person. I treasure my copy of her memoirs, Roses in December. She brings an earlier time in Madoc and area to life so beautifully in them. What an achievement it was for her, and in her 90s!

      When my father died in 2004 we too experienced the overwhelming kindness of neighbours in the area of the family farm in Haliburton County. So many casseroles, desserts, etc. arrived that we couldn’t keep track. I will never forget one unusual and lovely act of kindness: a chap knocked on the door and said, “I’m heading for the dump. Can I take your garbage for you?” Of course a dump run was the last thing on our minds at that terribly sad time, but it was very much needed. Isn’t it wonderful how practical country people are?

  5. Definitely much to be thankful for! Glad you were safe and earned another day in Queensborough. I can’t believe neither of you has changed a tire. Even I have done that!

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