Courage Comes In All Sizes

This is a true story. Because it happened about 20 years ago it is likely that some of the “facts” that I seem to recall have likely been blurred by the mists of time. Any inaccuracies are unintentional.

I came across an article in our local newspaper about a mother of two young children who did something quite extraordinary. I don’t remember her name as it happened quite a long time ago and I didn’t save the newspaper article, so I’ll call her “Mary”.

She was alone in her car when she came to an accident scene. An armored truck had overturned trapping a guard inside as gasoline leaked onto the street. The thick metal door on the side of the truck that would have enabled him to escape was now out of reach above him and too heavy to lift from beneath.

A lot of money had spilled out the back of the truck onto the pavement. A crowd of people had gathered. Instead of trying to help the trapped crew, they started scooping up the money for themselves.

As a single mother with two young children, the money must have looked mighty tempting to Mary, but rather than join the mob and take some of the money for herself, she risked her life by climbing atop the truck as it lay on its side. She tried to lift the door to let the guard out but it was too heavy.

Mary yelled to the mob, asking for help and telling them the money wasn’t theirs and that they shouldn’t be taking it. Everyone ignored her and just kept grabbing the money.

As the gas continued leaking and pooled all around the truck, Mary knew that a single spark could engulf the truck and everyone near it in flames. Still, she stayed on the truck and continued struggling with the door.

Mary was not a large woman and she was fighting gravity and the full weight of the door. It took all of her strength but she was finally able to open it a crack. Just as she thought things were starting to improve they suddenly got much worse.

The guard inside saw the door being opened and thought he was about to be robbed. He drew his gun and aimed it at her. As Mary finally wrestled the door all the way open she stared straight into the muzzle of his gun!

Tense moments ticked by. Finally Mary was able to convince the guard that she was just trying to set him free. He cautiously put his gun away and she helped him to climb out of his heavy metal cage.

Mary and the guard quickly began gathering up the money to try to keep it from the mob.

The police eventually arrived and the mob scattered.

The article went on to say the tow truck company sent two dozen roses to thank Mary for all that she had done.

I was surprised and disappointed that considering all that Mary had risked and done for the armored car company they just gave her two dozen roses. The more I thought about it, the more I became determined to fix what I thought had been an injustice.

We were a struggling one-income family back then and didn’t have much money, but my wife agreed to the idea of trying to find a way to anonymously send a monetary reward to Mary. I believe the amount we agreed on was $250.

We thought the best way to do that would probably be to contact the newspaper, so I left a message for the reporter who’d written the article. He promptly called me back and I explained what we had in mind and the reasons behind the idea. He asked if it would be ok if he mentioned our names in an article and I reiterated that we wanted to remain anonymous, but that it would be ok if he mentioned that Mary got a reward from anonymous donors. I asked him to either send the money to her or to ask her for permission to give her address to us so we could. He said he’d call her and let us know what she said.

Awhile later the reporter called to say that Mary had made a counter-proposal. She didn’t want to accept the money unless she could meet the donors and thank us personally.

When my wife heard Mary’s request, she suggested that we invite her and her two young children to dinner. What a great idea! It was a way to further honor Mary, and for her children to see that their mom was being honored for what she had done.

An added bonus is that our young children could meet Mary and see first-hand that a hero looks like an ordinary person and that what makes a person a hero is that they do what needs to be done when it needs to be done, regardless of the consequences.

My wife and I looked forward to meeting Mary too, but if we’d have known what was going to happen that evening we might have canceled the whole thing. To this day I am embarrassed about it and very rarely mention our dinner with a hero to anyone.

I called the phone number that he reporter had given to me and spoke to Mary, giving directions to our house to her.

I believe these were the days before the average person had cell phones or GPS. I mention this because it helps to explain what happened next, though in truth the primary reason for the disaster was that I can sometimes be a complete idiot.

The night the meeting was scheduled my wife was busy making the dinner. I don’t remember what it was, but it was one of those should be served shortly after cooking, and doesn’t stay warm well for long.

If I recall correctly, we got a call from Mary a little after her scheduled arrival time. She had been following my directions and was now far away from our neighborhood. Mary told me where she was, and I gave her directions to get back to a street that was part of the original directions. I told her and my wife that Mary should be here in about 15 minutes.

My wife looked at her dinner with a nervous look in her eyes. Fifteen minutes later, no Mary, and the dinner was looking well past its prime.

Awhile after that I got another call from Mary, she was again far from our neighborhood and again I verbally steered her to the original directions I’d given to her. By now Mary was probably wondering if this was all somehow a cruel practical joke. My wife looked at the dinner with hopeless eyes.

About 15 minutes later, Mary called again and this time asked me if I’d go through all the directions all over again. I did, but this time included a critical street that I’d apparently forgotten to mention in my original call to her. OOPS! By now I had two very frustrated women, four very hungry children, and a very embarrassed self to deal with. My wife looked at the disaster that her dinner had become with disgust, and probably gave the same look to me then too, but as I said earlier, certain things may have been blurred by the mists of time.

At long last, Mary and her two young children arrived. I apologized every way I knew how and Mary graciously accepted them. My wife then apologized for the ruined dinner and Mary graciously accepted her apologies and did her best to eat a dinner that was barely recognizable as food.

The rest of the evening THANKFULLY went well. I remember Mary as being young, friendly, and relatively short in height. Very different than I pictured her from the newspaper article. Her children were cute and very well behaved. We learned a bit about each other, the kind of jobs we had, etc.

My wife and I then presented her with an envelope with the money in it. I think it had a note too but I no longer remember. As we did so, we told her in front of her children and ours that we were honored to have her at our home and that she was a hero in our eyes.

I hope that memory remains with all the children throughout their lives.

Mary, wherever you are, thank you again for the choices you made and the risks you took on that scary day at the overturned armored truck, for forgiving me for the terrible directions and the ruined dinner, for honoring our home with your presence, and for being a model of courage and humility to our children.


About russtowne

I'm awed by the beauty of nature and the power of love and gratitude. Some of my favorite sensory experiences include waves crashing on rocky shores, waterways in ancient redwood and fern-filled forests, and rain. My wife and I have been married since 1979. We have 3 adult children and 5 grandchildren. I manage a wealth management firm that I founded in 2003. My Beloved is a Special Education teacher for Kindergartners and First Graders. I'm a published author of approximately 60 books in a variety of genres for grownups and children.
This entry was posted in Choices, Courage, Family "Fun", Parenting, True Stories I've Written, Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

29 Responses to Courage Comes In All Sizes

  1. Russ, thank you for an incredible story of both your generosity and Mary’s courage. After spending my weekend with a group of people who supported each so thoroughly, this story was even further uplifting.

    Take care,


  2. boomiebol says:

    You are a kind good man. Mary is a hero no doubt

  3. jiltaroo says:

    What a wonderful story Russ. I’m sure that she will always remember your kind and generous gesture. I can only imagine how lovely your children must be growing up with such wonderful parents. Jen

  4. thoughtsfromanamericanwoman says:

    The more I read of your story the more teary eyed I are also a hero in every sense of the word. You and your wife are a rare breed seldom seen anymore, oh I am sure there are many out there but we seldom hear about them for I am sure most of them like you would like to remain anonymous or it never makes the news. Let me say it is an honor to know you – and may many of us pay it forward in the tradition of “Mary” and you and your wife. Blessings! Patty

  5. Dear Russ, thank you for recognising an unsung hero in your midst. What a remarkable woman and what a remarkable story. I can’t begin to thank you for your part in this story…With gratitude and respect, Sharon

  6. What a heart warming story….

  7. mindfuldiary says:

    Warmed my heart with this one. You and your wife are such kind, kind people. Wow, she must have felt really good, not to mention her kids. 🙂

  8. Andrea Kelly says:

    You and your wife are such wonderful people, Russ. I’m so glad you found each other, and passed on such good examples to your children. What a kind and generous thing to do, and I’m sure that the impact of your actions that night left Mary and her children with a positive memory.

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