Only a few weeks ago we were collectively celebrating Halloween. I was driving as usual on that special day, and had just dropped off a car near Baltimore. And I got a frantic call from sweet old Mrs. Sherman, who said she needed me to pick up her car as soon as possible. I've driven her car from the north down to Florida and then back up for several years, but word usually comes from my boss Riff. I tried and tried to call him, but no luck. So I made my way up to her house via commuter trains and buses.
When I arrived at her house, she opened the door to greet me. She looked a little bit surprised to see me, and said, "Well hello, Bill, this is an unexpected pleasure. Please do come in."
As soon as I walked in the door I could smell the strong odor of gas. "Mrs. Sherman, do you smell gas?"
"I'm 94 years old now, sometimes I don't fully digest and break wind. I took my Beano. Or maybe, yes, it must be the oven, I am cooking a big batch of... now wait a minute. What am I cooking?"
I hurried over to the oven and could see it was set on 450 degrees. I opened it and the smell of the gas was much more profound. I quickly turned the oven off, and then looked to find how to turn the gas off. "Your pilot light went out, Mrs. Sherman."
"The lights are going out?" She scurried over to a drawer and pulled out a large box of matches. "Let me just light a few candles while we can still see."
I quickly took the matches from her. "No ma'am, you don't to be lighting any matches right now."
"Well, OK, but its going to get very dark in here when the lights go out. By the way, Happy Thanksgiving to you!"
"Not quite yet, today is Halloween. In a few more weeks it will be Thanksgiving."
She looked perplexed. "Are you sure about that?"
"Well then, I guess we better get ready for the trick or treaters. I don't have candy, I guess I can bake some cookies. Or rice crispy treats. What do you like, Bill? A chocolate cake? Or a cherry pie?"
I smiled at her. "I like them all, but I don't think we should be baking right now. We need to get some windows opened." I went around the kitchen and living room opening windows.
"Don't you think its awfully cold to be letting the night air in?" she asked.
"We have to get the gas fumes out of here."
"Gas fumes?" she said with wonder. "Oh, I filled up the tank of my car with gas, so it's all ready for you to drive to Florida."
I nodded. "Uh, yes, but do you realize that I just drove it up from Florida a little over a month ago?"
She rubbed her chin. "I see. Well then there must be some mistake, it's too soon for you to take it back down there. What made you think I was ready to move it?"
"Your phone call."
She hurried for the front door. "There's the doorbell, our first trick or treaters are here." But there was no doorbell, and when she opened the door she found an empty porch. "Now where did they go? Do you think they are pulling a prank on me?"
"Perhaps so," I offered.
"Bill, I am so glad you showed up. I get so lonely here sometimes, its so good to see a friendly face."
"Happy to see you too, Mrs. Sherman."
The door from the garage into the house opened, and Mrs. Sherman's daughter Regina came rushing in. "Mother, are you OK?" she asked. Then she saw me. "Bill Thomas, what are you doing here?"
"He came to surprise me," said Mrs. Sherman.
Regina shook her head. "I don't understand." She sniffed at the air. "Do I smell gas?"
I held my hands up as I explained. "Your mother called to ask me to come pick up her car."
"What? No, no, it's not -- Oh Mother, what have you been up to?"
"I smelled the gas when I got here, and turned the oven off. The pilot light had gone out."
"I was baking some... some... something delicious!" said Mrs. Sherman with pride. She winked at me.
"The windows are open, I'm trying to clear out the fumes."
Regina walked over to me. "Thank you so much for looking out for my Mother. You are a very sweet man."
"No problem, ma'am. All in a day's work."
We talked a bit longer, and then Regina called a taxi to come pick me up and take me back to the train station. As I rode away from the house, I saw ghosts and goblins walking down the street carrying bags to collect candy. And I felt good inside knowing that Mrs. Sherman would be alright.