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Susquehanna Life

Tell Us Your Story: The Traveler

Nov 23, 2020 09:07AM ● By Millie Baker Ragosta

My husband Vince, and I—realizing kids will do what we do, not necessarily what we tell them to do—always try to set a good example. For instance, when the Surgeon General announced scientific studies confirming smoking is a decided health hazard, Vince promptly gave up his half-a-pack-a-day habit. When I noticed, he explained: “I can’t expect the kids not to smoke when I do.”

His good example worked; not one of our eleven kids ever smoked. Another rule we laid down was never to pick up a hitchhiker. To be sure, our van was usually so crowded, if we had offered any self-respecting hitchhiker a ride, the answer would have been, “Thanks, but no thanks.” 

Seat-belts hadn’t yet been mandated back in the day or we’d have been breaking the law just to drive to church, so only eight of the kids were still with us one late summer afternoon, as we headed home after visiting an amusement park in Ohio, north and west of our home in Mercer, Pennsylvania. As we traveled south on Route 19, I noticed an elderly man lying on the grassy verge along the highway.

“Stop, Vince, back up!” I cried.

He threw me a tired glance and asked, “Why?”

“An old man is lying in the grass back there; I hope he hasn’t been hit by a car.”

So, Vince backed up. The old man—noticing us—sat up slowly and began brushing at his rumpled brown jacket.

Vince asked, “Can we help you, sir?”

The old man shook his head. “I’m afraid not; you’re headed south, and I need to get to Erie.”

“I can’t take you to Erie; it’s 90 miles north and our little ones are tired and hungry,” Vince said. “But Mercer is only 10 miles south at a crossroad for Routes 62 and 19. I can guarantee you’ll find a ride to Erie there.”

“Sounds good, thanks,” the old fellow said as he struggled to stand.

Vince—his concern at the old man’s weakness showing on his face—got out of the van to help him. I told the older kids to take the smaller ones on their laps to make room for our passenger as their dad got him settled into the van.

As Vince started the van, I turned around in my seat and tried—as tactfully as I could—to learn why he was heading to Erie, especially when he was so obviously ill.

“My daughter lives there,” he said. “She had no money to pay for bus fare but said if I can find my way to her, she can look after me.” He coughed. “Reason I'm feeling so weak . . . I guess it’s because I haven’t eaten since yesterday.”

Vince, like most big-hearted Italians, unable to bear the thought of anyone going hungry, swallowed hard at that.

When we got to the Mercer Diner, Vince helped the old man up the steps, certain he would find a trucker willing to take the traveler to his daughter in Erie. When Vince returned to the van, he tried to explain to the kids why he had broken his own rule about picking up hitchhikers. “It’s still dangerous to pick up hitchhikers, but that poor old guy was in no condition to harm anyone,” he said.

Third son, Kevin, grinned and asked, “So we can pick up helpless old men?”

Vince replied, “Look, I’ve explained why you guys shouldn’t pick up hitchhikers, but you’re smart enough to see, in this case, it was the decent thing to do.”

Once home, I fed the baby and took her upstairs for a bath while Vince got supper on the table for the other kids. The telephone rang and as I lifted Rosie from the tub, I heard Vince pick it up; shortly he came slowly upstairs to me.

“That was Dave Warner,” he said. “He was having coffee when I helped the old fellow in.”

“Did he find a ride for him?”

Sadly, Vince shook his head. “He didn’t need to; I’d given the poor old fellow some money to buy supper. Dave said, ‘The old guy finished a plate of ham and eggs and had just paid his bill when he dropped. He was dead before he hit the floor.’”

Vince went to finish getting supper ready while I put the baby to bed; we still tell our children not to pick up hitchhikers.

But until the day I die, I will thank God that traveler’s last contact with his fellow man was with my dear, old Good Samaritan.

At nearly 90, Millie Baker Ragosta—widowed these many years—still treasures every memory of her deceased husband Vince, 11 kids (also one deceased), 19 grand-kids, and 13 great-grandkids (at last count), and thanks God she lives in beautiful Pennsylvania.

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