My daughter, Celese, is a very conscientious mother. She tries to be where she needs to be, when she needs to be there, and to do what is best for her children. That is a big reason the events of that day were so disconcerting to her.

When Celese’s daughter, Violatte, started school this year, the school, as usual, asked the parents to volunteer some time to help in the classroom. They provided a sign up sheet at registration.

Celese signed her name to the paper indicating she would come two days per week. When she showed up for her first day, the teacher was surprised.

“You really plan to come help?”

“Of course,” Celese replied.

The teacher kind of shrugged. “Others say they will come, but they never do.”

The teacher assumed that Celese would soon quit coming, but she was there, faithfully, every time it was her turn. Quite soon she became well known around the school for her diligence and her talents. But on this particular day, one of the off days for which she wouldn’t be going, she ran in to a dilemma.

Her family had had many medical bills and student loans. Determined to pay them off, they had set a strict budget, and vowed not to use credit cards. That morning happened to be the day before pay day, and they were totally out of money. As Celese and the children climbed into the van to take Violatte to school, Celese saw, to her dismay, that the gas gauge registered empty. Even though it wasn’t a long way to the school, she knew they couldn’t make it there and back without a stop at the gas station.

But with no money left in the checking account, she was left searching for what change could be found. Everyone hurried into the house for the hunt. They looked under cushions, behind couches, and even raided the family piggy bank. Between all of them they came up with $2.47. With gas hovering over the $4 mark, she knew this would barely make the needed trips.

When she pulled into the gas station, she went in to pay the clerk before she pumped the gas. The clerk looked surprised at the change on the counter. “Honey, dis won’t even buy you a gallon of gasoline. What are you trying to do, wean dat old van of yours?”

Celese blushed, and told her the story. The clerk smiled. “Well, den, when you get paid tomorrow, you come on back and give dat van a real good drink before it up and dies of dehydration.”

Embarrassed, Celese pumped the $2.47 worth of gas. She only had the nozzle connected to her van for a short time, and other customers stared. At least she imagined they did. But, finally, she was on her way. She looked at her watch and realized that school had started over an hour earlier. She didn’t have anything to write a note with, so she told Violatte to just tell the teacher that they had problems.

“Tell her I will explain it all tomorrow when I come to help, and maybe she won’t mark you tardy today.”

As often happens when a day starts out wrong, the rest of the day was chaotic as well. But, eventually, they had picked Violatte up from school, and were all on their way back home. Celese asked Violatte if she had remembered to talk to the teacher about being late.

“Yes,” Violatte replied, “and you don’t have to worry about it at all.”

Celese was relieved. “I’m glad your teacher is so understanding.”

Violatte nodded. “Yeah. I just said, Sorry I’m late. My mommy had gas problems.'”

Daris Howard, award-winning, syndicated columnist, playwright, and author, can be contacted at [email protected]“>[email protected]; or visit his website.