Domestic and Foreign Aid

We’ve been wintering in our usual haunts of Port St Joe  and Apalachicola Florida. Winters in Northern Florida are nothing like sunny Southern Florida, but it’s usually lovely. This season weather has followed two patterns—sunny and windy (I’m talking sustained 12 mph with 20 mph gusts) or rainy and dreary. I’m not complaining, because it’s possible to do dreary here wearing shorts and t-shirts instead of snow pants and a parka. Still, it’s been dreary or windy (or both) almost every day, which means we’re spending more time than usual around the “house.” As I’m writing this, a three-hour downpour complete with thunder and lightning has been pounding our roof. I’ve spent my time reading, writing or rearranging and sorting out the house. Since I have the time, I’m doing that KonMari style. Ben is more of a man of action. He’s re-hung cabinet doors that were slightly askew and made dozens of trips to the local hardware store to buy various parts and doo-dads to improve on whatever he thinks could use improving. I estimate for every six trips he takes to get parts, he makes five additional trips to return/exchange said parts. It keeps him busy. He can’t help it, it’s the MacGyver in him.

Mr. Quality Control checks Ben’s work.

Having run out of projects around our house, he set his sights elsewhere. When we arrived at our campground in Port St. Joe, he noticed that our neighbor’s RV was pretty dingy. The inside was well-kept, but it turned out that the owner was disabled and wasn’t up to the task of washing it himself. Ben was all over that in a hot minute. We made a trip to the store for cleaner and a brush, and later that same day he attacked the coach with gusto. It took a day and a half, but in the end the coach was sparkling clean. Ben decided to forego washing the roof as the wind was rather brisk. Our neighbor came over to see me. “I can’t believe this,” he said. “I feel terrible that he’s doing all this work.” I assured him that if it wasn’t his coach, Ben would be helping someone else wash their rig. It’s how he rolls. Later he came to Ben with tears in his eyes. “This is the kindest thing anyone has done for me,” he said.

Canada-USA teamwork.

A few days later, a small camper set up across the way. It and its four occupants were from Quebec. They spoke French and their command of English was about as good as the little French I remembered from high school, so our interactions were limited. The camper was their only mode of transportation, so every morning they would close it up and take off for the day to tour the area. One morning, disaster struck. The camper slide out would not retract. For those of you not familiar with such things,

Neighbor Jeff gets into the act.

you cannot drive with the things out. In most cases, you can’t even start the engine until the slides are retracted. After a few minutes of watching them struggle, Ben sprang into action, and trotted across the road to help. For good measure, our neighbor Jeff also pitched in, as did a few other kibitzers who chose to comment from afar. Nothing will liven up a campground like a mechanical crisis; it attracts onlookers as does chumming the water to attract sharks. Adding a twist to the stuck slide was the fact that the unit was a rental. The campers had no clue how it worked and there was no owners manual to consult. They were on the phone with the rental company in Quebec, with someone who seemed not to have a great command of French. There was a lot of gesturing and linguistic fumbling, grunting and pulling and removing battery cables to “re-boot” the RV, while Ben made multiple trips back and forth to his tool box. Maddeningly, the slide would almost close and then pop open. Finally, the slide closed and our neighbors were able to get on their way. I surely hope there’s someone like Ben at their next stop.

The husband and wife camped on our other side are avid fishers. Bob and Ginny came loaded with gear and kayaks to fish the bay and were thwarted by both the weather and the disruption caused in the bay by Hurricane Michael. Bob spent his days rearranging his fishing gear and Ginny read books. Then Bob admired a contraption Ben rigged in our water bay to handle water without needing lots of connections. In that instant, a brotherhood was formed. For the next several days, Bob and Ben would head for the hardware store for hoses, clamps, valves and all manner of parts. After a lot of banging around, they created a similar setup for Bob’s rig. It kept them busy for days. Ginny and I amused ourselves by paddling around the bay when it was possible.

There’s a typical exchange that happens in campgrounds. Someone is working on a project. Others pass by and a conversation goes something like this:

“Well, you’ve got a project going on here.”

“Yep, I sure do.”

“Need any help?”

“Nope, I’m good.”


For most people, that is the end of the conversation. Ben, on the other hand never asks permission—he just shows up. It happens like that everywhere we go. Ben will disappear to wander the campground and return to retrieve something he thinks would be useful to someone he’s just met whether it’s a map, a tool, or a helping hand. One morning I came back from a walk to find him on a ladder helping a neighbor replace the RV’s taillights. People are initially surprised that a stranger would make such an effort, especially when it’s unlikely their paths will cross again. Occasionally someone offers to compensate him; Ben usually suggests they repay him by buying him a beer and helping someone else down the road. I wish there was a way to measure his circle of good will, for I’m sure it’s large.

3 thoughts on “Domestic and Foreign Aid

  1. Kay Massman Helman

    Ben has always been a wonderful guy with a big heart, and many gifts. I love reading about your adventures ….safe and fun travels!


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