Letter: A kindness remembered – Thank you, Fern!
To the editor:
On late December 1982 when I was a young man, I was driving my little Yamaha RD400 from San Diego to Santa Cruz. I barely made it past a snowstorm over the Grapevine and as I dropped into the Grapevine on the 5 I was very cold as I only had jeans, one shirt and my dad’s Vietnam era Army jacket because, well, I was indestructible.
Being cold I mistook Interstate 5 for the 99 and ended up in Bakersfield. Frustrated I kept going on the 99 and turned west on the 46. I was running behind and had enough gas money to get to Santa Cruz.
Once I was past the 5, I accelerated out of Lost Hills and went full throttle. Mind you, this was when the 46 was mostly a 2-way road into Paso Robles.
Near the Highway 41/46 intersection close to Cholame, I hit the infamous San Joaquin Valley fog at full speed in the dark and could not see more than 3 feet ahead of me. Somehow I managed to stop, not crash and sat by the side of the road scared and cold.
Rattled and shivering with cold I limped into Paso Robles and stopped at the local Denny’s. A cute “older” waitress came up to me and asked if I was OK. She could tell I was just a scared kid. I told her my story, explained that I had enough money for gas and asked if I could just wait there for a bit to get warm.
She sat me down, gave me lots of hot chocolate and some breakfast until I settled down and eventually made it to Santa Cruz. I felt ever eternally grateful to her for her kindness and have tried to pass it along over the years.
This eternal gratefulness has lasted a long time to the point that many people have heard the story including my kids.
About 12 years ago when my kids were still little, I stopped with them at the same Denny’s and vaguely recognized a waitress there. I asked how long she had been there and I tried to tell her the story. She smiled said “Oh, many years,” and walked away as there were a lot of customers so I could not ask any more questions to verify if it was her.
I had at the same experience on April the 8th this year at the same Denny’s with my traveling companion Heather. She’s heard the story before and right before we went in, I reminded her of the story. I told her “Wouldn’t it be amazing if she was still there?” and we laughed as it seemed an impossibility after almost 38 years.
We sat down and amazingly enough were approached by a familiar friendly face. Older but still recognizable. Her name tag imprinted with “Fern” brought additional recollections.
I was beaming and hoping it was the same person as it would verify what seemed like just another “Rick” story. This time it wasn’t busy so she sat down. We talked, smiled. She mentioned that she remembered the kids and me from many years ago and even pointed to the table where we sat.
She also actually remembered me and the event. She mentioned, without boasting, about similar events in her career. Apparently, this great lady has done similar things before. A true guardian angel in a Denny’s uniform.
She humbly allowed Heather to take our picture and went back to work. Once again I gave her my thanks again for helping out a scared and cold kid.
I exited the Denny’s smiling and still smiling to this day as I remember the event.
Thank You, Fern!