Shovelers Anonymous by
(149 Stories)

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Author’s Note: This story provides more details on an incident that happened at the end of my story Fish in the Street, Snakes Under Glass. While I tried to think of another random act, this one was the most meaningful, so I elaborate on it here.

"Can I help?" a woman's voice asked from behind me. A young woman had appeared with a shovel.

Sometimes there are guardian angels, or at least humans come along to impersonate them. It was a morning in 1998, after the 100-year El Nino flood, and the night before I’d waded through three feet of water in my yard in Menlo Park, managed to get to a neighbor’s house, and trudged back to find the first kindness from the universe: the water hadn’t gone into my house. After reaching the top step of my front porch, the water had retreated, leaving a very squishy lawn covered with debris. Worse, about two feet of mud from the flooded creek covered my long, wide driveway, making it impassible.

I ate a quick breakfast, drank a cup of coffee, and found a shovel in my garage. Starting from where the driveway ended at the street, I began shoveling. Mud is very heavy, I discovered. So much so that it felt like I could move only a pound of it at a time. “Can I help?” a woman’s voice asked from behind me. A young woman had appeared with a shovel. “Oh, thank you,” I replied. Her name was Audrey, and I’d never seen her before. We didn’t talk much because it took our collective strength to clear the mud. We shoveled for an hour, and we hardly made any progress. Clearing the driveway would take days at this rate.

A pickup truck driving slowly down the street caught the corner of my eye. Out stepped two large, very strong men. “We can help you ladies,” one said. With that, they took out two huge shovels and a wheelbarrow from the bed of the truck. We noticed that the flood had created a large sinkhole-like depression in my neighbor’s yard, right near my driveway. After a quick discussion with the neighbors, the four of us started shoveling mud into the wheelbarrow. When it was full, one of the men dumped the mud into the sinkhole.

It would have been impossible for Audrey and me to lift the large shovels the men were wielding, let alone move the wheelbarrow. Progress speeded up amazingly, and within another hour and a half, all but a few inches of the mud had been cleared. The men instructed me to hose down the driveway to remove the remaining mud. As I thanked the men and Audrey and offered them food and coffee, they declined and in the blink of an eye were gone. It took another couple of hours to hose the mud and clear the worst of the debris, but by the end of the day the front yard looked close to normal.

Audrey had arrived on foot, and although she must have lived in the neighborhood, I couldn’t find her and never saw her again. The men never told me their names or where they had come from. This random, anonymous act of kindness has stayed with me until this day. I only hope I can pay it forward to someone who needs help, but not by using a shovel.

Profile photo of Marian Marian
I have recently retired from a marketing and technical writing and editing career and am thoroughly enjoying writing for myself and others.

Characterizations: right on!, well written


  1. Suzy says:

    Marian, this is a wonderful story! I love the mysterious Audrey, appearing on foot, so presumably a neighbor, and yet never seen by you before or since. Her random act of kindness was wonderful, but still not enough to handle the horrendous amount of mud, so you were then the recipient of a second random act by the men in the pickup truck. You are so right to call them all guardian angels. Thanks for sharing this magical tale.

  2. Beautiful story, Mare! I swear there are some people who just keep an eye out for others to help! My guess is you may well have been one of those helpful people yourself on occasion. Because (as I already said it to Betsy) what goes around comes around.

  3. John Shutkin says:

    A beautiful story, Marian, sufficed in the mystery of Audrey. And clearly, what she and the “guardian angels” did were enormous acts of kindness. And presumably random.

    • Marian says:

      Yes, John, it was the total randomness that really impressed me. I guess I could have called on friends who might have helped, but that wouldn’t have been random, although kind. Funny, many of my friends wanted to come and gawk, but very few actually helped in the ensuing storms. I ended up sandbagging my garage door and front porch by myself.

  4. Betsy Pfau says:

    Really lovely story, Marian. Those people appearing out of nowhere to help really were like your guardian angels; appearing and disappearing, giving no trace of where they came from and accepting no thanks for their generous help. And you all even helped fill in your neighbor’s sink hole in the process! A good day’s work and, as Barb mentioned, what goes around, comes around.

    • Marian says:

      Thanks, Betsy. At one point the evening after I thought I must have dreamed the help and that I’d wake up to the mud the next morning, but indeed the mud was gone. It’s so reassuring to know that there are wonderful people in the world.

  5. Laurie Levy says:

    Perfect example of random acts of kindness, Marian. They helped you but expected nothing in return. Actions like this restore my faith in the basic goodness of (most) people.

  6. Marian, I can almost hear the squish of the mud as you and your three good Samaritans shovel away to help rescue your driveway.

    Thanx for the kindness of those Menlo Park strangers, and so glad El Nino spared your house!

  7. It’s almost Magical Realism a la Gabriel Garcia Marquez. And I’m thinking of how it rained in his fictional region of Macondo for not just days or weeks or months, but years on end! Very well constructed narrative!

  8. You’ve written an authentic ande epic tale of elemental battles, wandering strangers, and mud, which I can affirm as being impossible to move.

    • Marian says:

      Thanks for understanding about mud, Charles. That was a real learning experience for me! The other irony was having to use gallons of water to hose down the driveway after wading in three feet of water there the night before!

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