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Generosity reaffirms small town values

Sometimes it takes a very bad day to make me thankful that I live in a small town.

If you listen to the naysayers, Natchez is in quick decline. It used to be that you could leave your front door unlocked without worrying whether a criminal is lurking in the shadows, they say. Crime is up. You can’t go to bed without a gun by your side, they say.

In recent years, I have seen the headlines and read the crime reports. I, too, am concerned about what happens to our community.

Tuesday morning, I discovered on the way to work that our cars had been broken into some time in the night, one parked on the street and one in our driveway, just a few feet from our bedroom window.

It is not the first time this has happened. We no longer lock our cars doors at night, not because we trust people will leave them alone — we just don’t want to have to pay to have another car window fixed.

We have learned to leave nothing of value in our vehicles. Thankfully only six soft drinks were stolen from our cars this time,

On an ordinary day, I might have been angry and convinced that the naysayers are right, But Tuesday’s car break-ins paled in comparison to the amazing gifts of generosity I received from strangers Monday.

It is safe to say, my Memorial Day was shaping up to be a difficult day. From the beginning it seemed as if I was always two or three steps behind.

Forced to walk back from the Natchez National Cemetery to my parked car at the visitor center in 95 degree heat, I was very thankful that Vernessa Cage and three other women driving back from the Memorial Day service let me climb into the back of their SUV. Without a water bottle, I may have burst into flames before I reached Madison Street. For the ride and the humorous conversation, I am thankful.

If that had been the only thing to happen to me Monday, I wouldn’t have given the day much consideration.

It is only when I had the flat tire on the way back from a photo assignment at Lake St. John, that I knew it was truly going to be a bad day, especially when I couldn’t find my car jack and my cellphone died while making a call for roadside assistance.

Suddenly I was back in the 1980s when my only option would have been to start hiking. With a corn field on one side and a soybean field on the other, I started walking down Tumminello Road toward U.S. 84 to find an open business on Memorial Day.

Halfway down the road, a pickup truck pulling a trailer stopped and asked if I needed help. Explaining my situation I thanked him for anything he could offer, including a ride to the nearest phone.

“I think I have some tools that will work,” Lawrence Chauvin said.

He pulled out a jack and an assortment of tools, including a couple of pink bath mats to insulate our knees from the hot pavement and a cooler filled with water.

It took a little more than 30 minutes to change the tire.

As I turned the last lug nut, I sincerely thanked him for the help.

I have lived in large and small towns in my life. It has always been in the smaller, closer knit communities that I experience such generosity.

It is that sense of community and selflessness that I find unique in small towns. As bad as the day gets, there is usually a hand not far behind reaching out to help.

Before Chauvin drove off Monday evening, I told him I didn’t know how I could repay him for the help.

He replied, “I know you will get the chance one day.”

I will be ready when it comes.


Ben Hillyer is the design editor of The Natchez Democrat. He can be reached at 601-445-3540 or by e-mail at ben.hillyer@natchezdemocrat.com.