He's walking backwards down the edge of the road.
No concern for himself or the cars passing by him.
I know I should have concern for him... but my mind swirls with thoughts of "What ifs?"
"Sorry, buddy, not tonight." came out of my mouth without even thinking.
"Who you talkin' to Momma?" came from my backseat.
Being pulled back away from my thoughts, I answered, "Oh... just that hitchhiker alongside the road. You know, hitchhikers are strangers. You never pick up strangers!"
As I'm saying these words, my mind falls back to a time when I was a teenager...probably around 14.
Throughout my childhood, my mom would bravely pack the four of us kids into our conversion van and travel across country with us. We would stay at KOA campgrounds ...making friends as we went. Never a worry in the world...at least not to us kids.
But that summer, as we left the KOA campground in Kansas headed to California, a man approached my mother, asked her which direction she was headed, and asked if he could catch a ride.
My mother was a smart woman. I can't tell you how many times she had told us to never pick up hitchhikers and then she would follow it up with a story of a time when her and her college roommate picked up a hitchhiker... my mom had done the talking, her roommate sat in the backseat with a baseball bat ready to hit at any time. Then she would say "We were very lucky...that gentleman turned out to be a doctor from the hospital we were interning at.It could have turned out bad!"
This man was no doctor. He told us of his many trips to and from California and back to the Midwest. He told us of his frequent drug use and how prevalent it was out west. I gazed in awe. Not only was he cute, but he had been places, and done things... my teenage heart swooned.
My mother limited the information she gave him as they talked, but I wanted him to know everything. My mother repeatedly would interrupt me mid sentence.
Despite the fact that we were traveling all the way to California (his destination), my mother told him Hayes, Kansas was our stopping point. I was heartbroken that my mother wouldn't take him farther. Before dropping him off, I slipped him a note telling him how great it was to meet him and that I would love for him to write me with more tales of his adventures along with our address.
Thinking about that now makes the 'What ifs?' jump to the forefront of my mind, and I am SO thankful that the 'What ifs?" never played out.
What if he had seen his chance with a mother and four kids and taken advantage?
What if he had gotten mad when my mom told him she wouldn't take him any farther?
What if he had used the address to come "visit"?
I glance at my boys in my rear view mirror. I can also see the hitchhiker getting smaller and smaller.
"Not tonight. Not ever." I mumble and with that decision I knew there would be no 'What ifs?'