By Mary Ann Ingelfinger
An article in the paper about a woman in Hamburg with a surprise passenger in the cargo area of her SUV reminded me of an experience in the 1980s.
I was working for a home health care agency on West Tupper Street in Buffalo. To save money, I went to work by 7 a.m. and parked free on the street behind the Herman Badillo School, then walked to the office. I ate lunch in the office and never returned to my car until after 5 p.m.
The car was an old, $100, hand-painted, pumpkin-colored, monster Impala that my dad kept running for me with baling wire and electrical tape, so I never worried about it sitting on the street all day.
My job was in payroll, and I would enter the time sheets of the nurses and aides as they brought them to the office, transmit them to the head office in Kansas City, which would write the checks and express them to me on Thursday. Then I would sort them into the three regional offices of Dunkirk, Lockport and Buffalo; and overnight them to the Dunkirk and Lockport offices to be distributed on Friday.
One winter Friday I arrived at the office at 7 a.m. and found the checks on my desk. I had never called the overnight carrier to get them to the branch offices. When my boss arrived, I assured her I would deliver them to the branches myself. While I was a little worried about the performance of the pumpkin car, I had no choice.
I left the office with a prayer on my lips, got to the car, opened the driver’s door, (which was not locked, because none of the pumpkin’s doors locked), and a man popped up in the back seat and scrambled out of the car with a bag of belongings.
He said, “It’s OK lady, I didn’t hurt anything, honest!”
I asked what he was doing, and he said, “The sun comes in the back window and the car is warm, and it isn’t locked and you don’t come out all day, and I sleep here.”
He went on to say that it is cold at night and he cannot go to the shelter because they won’t let him bring his “stuff” inside and if he leaves it outside, people take it. This way he sleeps in the car while it is warm during the day and can walk around to keep warm at night.
He said he was sorry and please don’t call the police.
I told him I would be back after 1 p.m. When I came back, my spot was being used by someone else, and I parked on the next street over. I never went out before quitting time again and always parked in the same original spot behind the school.
On the drive to Dunkirk that day it occurred to me that over the winter I should have noticed some things that just slipped by me; like the blanket I kept in the back seat to keep the kids warm when the heater in the pumpkin car wouldn’t work, had recently been folded on the seat, when usually it was a lump in the corner or on the floor. And the “kid rubble” was neat and the candy wrappers, etc., were gone.
One day in the spring I returned to the pumpkin car and found on the dashboard above the steering wheel a bouquet of one real tulip, with wax, plastic and fabric flowers, including a large white fabric lily, a stem of red plastic poinsettias and others in various conditions, tied with a white satin bow from a funeral arrangement. I never saw the man after that first day, but in all that winter the car was always neater than my family ever left it.
Mary Ann Ingelfinger, of Orchard Park, chose kindness when a homeless man stayed in her car.