Cracker Barrel: With the help of my friends

Believe in the goodness of your neighbors.

Photo illustration, Shutterstock, Inc.

Last week, after Old Man Winter treated us to a big dose of fresh snow, I did what I’ve done many dozens of times before. I made my way down to our shop, fired up our aging Chevy four-wheel-drive pickup with the plow on the front, and commenced to plow the half-mile of driveway that connects us to the paved city road.

Later that same day, aware that we needed a few groceries, I hopped into our two-wheel-drive car and headed into town, assuming the county road would be plowed, which it wasn’t yet. Instead of sensibly turning around and going back to get the pickup, I decided to try to push through the snow with the car - and almost made it out to the county road before bogging down.

What happened next was like something out of a Hallmark movie. Having gotten my emergency two-foot-long shovel out of the trunk and begun starting to clear a path out to the highway, I was astonished to see a couple I vaguely knew pull over on the shoulder, pull a shovel from their trunk and come to help me.

Then a second car stopped, and a third, and more people joined in the effort.

Eventually a fourth and finally a fifth car pulled over, and within a few minutes, with some folks digging and others pushing from the rear, I got back in the car and managed to break loose from the snow and head toward town, yelling and waving thanks through my open window.


Now you might think an incident such as this is no big deal - and maybe, years ago, you’d have been right. Back then folks in rural areas knew most of their neighbors and were used to helping one another out. In the absence of cell phones and tow trucks, you could imagine yourself truly depending on passersby to help you out of a jam.

But that, I thought, was then. Today people are suspicious of one another. Today people are politically divided, and not just divided, but full of hate. Today even Vikings and Packers fans have trouble agreeing on anything, right?

Well, I must say that in the days since I foolishly managed to get myself stuck and found myself rescued by people I barely knew and some of whom I may never see again, I’m beginning to wonder. I wonder how deep our supposed divisions actually go. I wonder if helping people in need isn’t something most of us instinctively want to do.

I wonder if we haven’t simply managed to talk ourselves into thinking that political disagreements matter more than they actually do, and by confining ourselves to selected news sources, and refusing to listen to any others, haven’t managed to cut ourselves off even more from one another.

Make no mistake - I’m not suggesting there aren’t genuine disagreements on certain issues among American citizens. A glimpse back in history will verify there have always been disagreements, and I would imagine there always will be.

But I have begun to wonder if we haven’t made a giant mistake in thinking those differences matter enough to deserve keeping us divided.

Last week, stuck in a mess of my own making, I was rescued by eight fellow citizens who chose, on the spot, to treat me like a friend, thus making the words of the old Beatles song come true once again.

We truly do get by with the help of our friends, even if, sometimes, we’re not quite sure who they are. To those eight individuals who went out of their way to help me get unstuck, I offer heartfelt thanks.


Collections of Craig Nagel’s columns are available at

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Craig Nagel, Columnist

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