I can’t remember what year it was. It was before 2004 or so, as I still had my Jeep Cherokee. It was a great car until it wasn’t. And when it wasn’t a great car, it really really really wasn’t. We were driving to Vermont from Rhode Island to spend Thanksgiving with Todd’s family. We set out on Wednesday night after work, at exactly the same time as every single other person in New England set out to travel for Thanksgiving.

We skirted Boston, we weren’t insane enough for that impossible route through the city on the night before Thanksgiving. We were west of Boston on route 290 headed for Worcester. Then on route 190 north of Worcester. Then at some point it started to pour down rain, and I turned on the windshield wipers. I noticed that the wipers weren’t going as fast as they normally would, and my headlights grew dimmer and dimmer. What on earth was happening? We were on the back roads by then, somewhere on route 2 riding parallel to Massachusetts’ northern border. We stopped at a gas station in a microscopic town called Athol, Massachusetts to see what was happening.

Todd is very handy, he opened the hood to check out the situation and determined that the alternator had ceased alternating. It had stopped providing power to the car. While the engine still ran, the things like lights and windshield wipers weren’t getting the energy they needed to do their jobs. He went inside and learned there was an auto parts store nearby that was just about to close. A stranger in the store offered him a lift. I stayed with the car, still running—who knew whether it would start again if I turned it off. There was a woman in the gas station who gave him her address, “Once you get the parts you need, just pull in to my garage. I have a ton of tools. I am heading to a family party but my girlfriend will be in the house.”

Let me say that again. A stranger told us to go into her garage, while she wasn’t home, to use her tools so that we could fix the Jeep. Todd took off with the man in his truck to go to the parts store. I bit down every single nail on my hands while I waited. He returned with a new alternator. Then we managed to find this woman’s house.

We pulled in to the garage, and sure enough we found her tools. Todd removed the faulty alternator and installed a new one. We started the Jeep. The radio came on, the wipers flung water at us as we stood beside the car and watched it come to life. I wanted to cheer, but I also didn’t want to disturb the girlfriend, whom we hadn’t seen, but heard she was in the house. We pretty much whispered the whole time we were in this garage—what would be creepier? Carrying on in conversation voice or whispering as we were strangers in this garage?

As we were cleaning up our mess, I spotted some of this woman’s mail. I took down her mailing address so we could send her a thank you note after we’d gotten home. I included a gift card to Home Depot in the note as well and said “If you’re ever in Rhode Island and you’re in need of assistance, you have a friend in the Ocean State.”

We left her house and continued on to Vermont and told the story over Thanksgiving dinner. I ended up donating the Jeep after Todd had been in an accident in it and broke the axel. It was just as well, as the Jeep was getting to that age where it started to leave a line of parts in its wake as I drove around. The alternator was the first of many problems to come.

It’s that time of year again. The giving season. Help someone in need. Go down to Walmart and anonymously pay off someone’s layaway. Help someone change a tire. Or just smile, for crying out loud. A smile costs nothing, and the kindness it conveys is priceless.

I’ve forgotten that woman’s name, whose garage she so generously donated to us when we were in need. But I’ve never forgotten her. And every Thanksgiving I send her a silent “thank you.”

BJ Knapp is the author of Beside the Music, available for purchase here. Please sign up for the Backstage with BJ Knapp mailing list to get updates on events, signings, dog pictures and so much more.