It was December 4, 2001, and my father would die in four days. He'd been diagnosed four years earlier with chronic lymphatic leukemia and was receiving hospice care at home. My siblings and I had decided to take off work as often as possible to help our mother during this difficult time.
On that early morning, I looked out the window at frost covering my windshield. I grabbed my keys and ran out to start the car.
As I opened the car door, my eyes were drawn to a lone figure walking on the road fronting my house.
I didn't make too much of seeing someone on the road, even at this early hour. I lived close enough to our small Brown County town and knew the neighborhood children often walked the half mile to school.
After starting the car, I went back inside for a couple of minutes to catch the end of the news and get a last drink of coffee while the ice melted from my car windows.
Damn, but these were hard times. Sept. 11 was still uppermost in everyone's mind, and the news was full of reports that President Bush was surely restless for war. Past and imminent death swelled around me.
I pulled on my coat, drank the dregs of my coffee and headed out to the car. No sooner than I got to it did I hear a faint knocking on my passenger side window. A bit startled, I pushed the button to lower it. Peering through the small opening was the person I recognized as walking on the road just moments ago.
She was a young African-American girl, maybe 17.
Her voice was unsure and faint, and I had to strain to hear her over my car engine. I finally understood. She was asking for a ride.
I reached over and unlocked the door. "Come on in," I said.
She looked like a cornered rabbit as she slid silently into the seat.
"Where do you need a ride to?" I asked.
She hesitated before she responded. "Can you tell me where I am?"
"You're in Hamersville, hon."
She looked at me quizzically, and it was then I realized she was a long way from home. After a few halting starts and stops, her story came tumbling out.
She'd come to Cincinnati to visit family. I forget where she said she was from -- I want to say Michigan or Tennessee. According to her tale, some of her cousins had decided to take her on a tour of the country.
She related to me how they'd stopped on the road, she didn't know which road as she'd been walking for hours, and they pushed her out of the car and just left her there in the dark.
It occurred to me that she could be lying, so fantastic her story seemed. But the tears were real, and her frightened demeanor rang true.
I told her that she was about 40 miles east of Cincinnati, a fact that didn't seem to register with her. I told her I was on my way to my parents' house and that my family was anticipating the death of my father.
I drove her up to the main highway and stopped my car at the little gas station. After digging around in my purse, I found and counted out seven dollars in bills and change, telling her it was all the money I had, which was true.
I pointed at the highway, State Route 125, and told her that she needed to go east and to stay on the road until she reached Amelia. The bus line started there.
I apologized for not taking her to Amelia and putting her on a bus, but I had to go to sit with my father.
She said she was grateful for the assistance I provided.
As I left her there, I felt like a heel. It would have taken me only 25 minutes to get her to a bus.
While driving to my father's, I wondered if she knew that the countryside she'd been dumped into was highly racist and volatile. I just bet that the so-called family who'd left her there knew it all too well.
I think of her often. Did she make her way to Amelia and to a bus? Was she able to find her relatives' home in Cincinnati? Was she back home safe and sound in Michigan or Tennessee?
Damn, those were hard times.
CONTACT MARILYN SCHIRMER: letters(at)citybeat.com. Living Out Loud runs every week at citybeat.com and the second and fourth issues of each month in the paper.