By Steve Lange
A country music song, apparently, has turned my retired father into a sort of patron saint for stranded travelers.
The song, “The Chain Of Love” by Clay Walker, tells the twangy story of a guy who stops to help a woman change a tire on her Mercedes (“He could see that she was frightened/Standing out there in the snow/’Til he said I’m here to help you ma’am/By the way my name is Joe.”)
When the woman asks how she can repay him, he says “You don’t owe me a thing/I’ve been there too/… If you really want to pay me back/Here’s what you do/Don’t let the chain of love end with you.”
The woman drives off and—probably more than a little frazzled because she’s realized that she was just alone with a strange man who was speaking in rhyme—pulls over at the nearest diner. There, she is served by a waitress who is “eight months pregnant” but still manages to “smile so sweet.”
So, anyway, the rich woman leaves the change from a $100 bill as a tip, and also leaves a note on a napkin. And, get this, THE NOTE SAYS EXACTLY THE SAME THING THAT JOE GUY SAID TO HER EARLIER!
The pregnant waitress goes home and goes to bed. Then—and I’m not making this up, though the song probably is—she starts “thinkin’ ’bout the money/And what the lady’s note had said/As her husband lay there sleeping/She whispered soft and low/Everything’s gonna be alright, I love you, Joe.”
Which gets you to thinking—wasn’t Joe the name of the guy who changed the tire? And COULD THIS BE THE SAME JOE?
The real message of the story, of course, is that very rich women can’t change flat tires, mostly because their white silk gloves keep slipping off the jack handle and their baubles get caught on the lug wrench.
Either way, my dad heard this song, and took it to heart. Not long after, he ran across two men, nearly out of gas, who hit him up for a few bucks. The men had driven into town to do a drywall job—sheets of drywall and joint compound sat in the back of their pickup truck—but the job had fallen through. They didn’t have enough money to get back home. My father filled their truck with gas, and one guy asked my dad for his address to pay him back. My father then asked them—and this is right from his retelling of the story—whether they were familiar with “The Chain Of Love.”
Now, by definition, I come from a different generation than my father. But I think the following holds true for men of any age group: If a 70-year-old guy just pumped $50 worth of gas into your truck and then asked you and your friend if you were interested in a “love chain,” it might raise some red flags.
I can only imagine the looks on their faces. I can only hope my father wasn’t speaking in rhyme.
My dad, eventually, explained what he meant. He gave the guy his address, but said he didn’t want money. He just wanted a letter detailing some good deed. He didn’t want the chain of love to end.
And so it has gone for the past few years. He’s changed tires, given rides to people walking alongside highways, pulled cars out of snowbanks. My stepmother says that I could write a book about all of the times he’s stopped. All he’s asked for, in return, is a letter detailing some good deed.
When he was visiting us from Michigan recently, he left for an errand at Menards and didn’t come back for maybe two hours. “I saw a woman on the side of the road who had locked her keys in the car with the car running,” he told us when he got back. “She really didn’t speak English, but I drove her home and we picked up her husband, who came back with us to unlock the car.”
“You let two strangers ride in your truck with you?” I asked.
“Chain of love,” he said.
A few months after the incident with the itinerant drywallers, my dad got a letter from one of them. “Just wanted you to know,” it read, “a woman needed some work done on her car, and I thought of what you said …” My dad didn’t tell me the guy’s name but, in my mind, that letter was signed “Joe.”
I had always figured that my father, when he retired, would be one of those guys who builds some giant sculpture out of motorcycle parts or collects thousands of Civil War era tools.
Instead, he’s collecting “Chain” letters, one at a time.