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OPINION | DEBRA HALE-SHELTON: A household member moves on

by Debra Hale-Shelton | November 29, 2020 at 9:14 a.m.

I recently said goodbye to a longtime part of my family and hello to a new member.

I drove my white 2001 Chevy Lumina for the last time a week ago today as I headed to a grocery store across town. A couple weeks earlier, I'd had a flat tire and replaced it with a spare tire, which frankly looked as if it was on its last leg, and indeed it was.

Last week, the spare also went flat. I didn't buy a new tire because I knew I was about to take over my mother's small 2011 sports-utility vehicle since she's decided to quit driving. And I knew very well that no one except perhaps a scrap-metal business would buy my Chevy Lumina.

Meanwhile, my daughter and I welcomed a living, breathing and barking new family member: Ollie, a 5-month-old black-and-white shelter dog who's part basset hound and part border collie. Ollie already knows the commands Sit, Talk, and Lay, and I'm trying to teach him Stop.

Ollie joins Shadow, aka Shady Lady, my elderly and rather plump dog who's part weenie, part chihuahua and, I think, part terrier. Like Ollie, she's black and white.

Ollie tends to be a tad more laid- back than Shady when it comes to our young calico cat Jupiter, who's either hissing at Ollie or finding refuge atop tall bookcases and other furniture. Blackie is the lucky cat in this case, for my husband got custody of her and they live across town, far from the barks and the growls.

We brought Ollie home from a shelter in Searcy in my mother's SUV because my car was already in bad shape. Lately, car warning lights I'd never seen were blinking. One indicated something was amiss with the brakes, a second referred to oil, and a third vaguely instructed me to check unidentified fluids. The car also jerked enough on the smoothest of highways to make an otherwise easy ride rough.

Still, I'm a bit sad to say goodbye to my Chevy Lumina, along with the stickers I put on it only a couple months ago. One pays homage to Elizabeth Warren and says, "She Persists." Another, bought in Fayetteville, says, "I miss Bill." At one point I had a sticker from my favorite independent bookstore, Parnassus Books in Nashville, Tenn. I had another that referred to "Two Old Hippies," quite appropriate for the weathered white car.

That car has taken my family and me on some memorable trips. We drove to Chicago and back in it a couple of times. One time Shady joined us, standing by choice on the arm rest almost the entire trip. We even parked the car in Winnetka, an upscale Chicago suburb where some residents probably muttered that the car was in violation of at least one, maybe two or three local ordinances.

As a reporter, I drove that same car to courthouses and colleges to cover education, murder trials and public corruption; to church to sing, pray and learn; to the hospital where babies took their first breaths and Daddy took his last.

I drove it slowly, carefully, nervously to work as I navigated roads covered with snow, ice and not nearly enough salt. I drove it home, full of papers and boxes, after my last day of work in an old concrete building that's now mostly vacant. I drove it to my daughter's high school graduation, to her first dormitory room, to none too few doctors' offices this past year.

Laden with boxes, plastic bins and flower pots, I drove it across town a year ago next month when I moved to my current home and began a new and sometimes difficult chapter of my life.

Now that Thanksgiving is over and the Christmas holidays are upon us, I'm reminded of how fortunate I am, even when I'm depressed, sad or angry. As I drove through town one day last week, I noticed a long line at a local food bank. I knew that I had more than enough food at home for my daughter and myself. And if I didn't, I knew I had close relatives who would be there to help with a moment's notice.

I can say prayers of thanks for my blessings, but I can do more, and so can many others. We can donate food, money or both to pantries in our communities.

We can also give those things directly to neighbors in need. Perhaps they live in a nice house but just lost their job due to the coronavirus crisis. Or perhaps they're homeless or live in a shack or a tent.

We can be good Samaritans, not only to our neighbors near and far, but to those we may not know by name or those who may be too proud or embarrassed to ask for help.

We can help with obvious needs: food for them and food for their pets. We can help with sanitary and cleaning supplies, first-aid items, labor. Maybe their heater is broken, but they can't afford to get it fixed. Maybe we can fix it or pay someone to do so.

Sometimes they may need other things as well, from Christmas gifts for their children to no-strings-attached kindness to friendship that replaces their loneliness with smiles and laughter. Whether we share openly or anonymously is an individual decision.

We don't ask those less fortunate to prove their financial need or to believe as we do on religion or politics. And we certainly don't demand that they document anything or show their papers.

We ask only that they accept and enjoy and, if they can, say thank you, and forward the kindness when they can someday. And we might even say "Thank you" for allowing us to help them and, along the way, ourselves.

Debra Hale-Shelton can be reached at dhaleshelton@gmail.com. Follow her on Twitter at @nottalking.

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