Crossing the Morse Bridge late on a Sunday afternoon, I narrowly avoided ripping out the undercarriage of the car. Instead, I slammed the car’s right front tire against a big chunk of nasty brown ice. It had to be the product of a big rig. You know the ice: post-storm road junk that forms behind a tire and grows and grows.

By mid-Falls Hill, there was no doubt about the condition of the tire. I got to Judy’s Variety/Gulf Station/Sam’s and waited until Monday morning to call AAA due to the wait for service.

I was assured that parking the buggy in Judy’s lot overnight was no problem. I limped it, hood first, into a place near the propane pump, locked it and got in the other car with my old man.

Next morning, I met AAA. We shortly discovered — ducking the cruel cold wind — that some would-be heister, angry that the car was locked, ripped the handle off the driver’s side door. What a crummy thing to do.

But the tire got changed and everyone got home and warm. Still, the incident made a good “poor-me” story.

A Rumford Library friend said, “Oh dear, that was no fun. But I always remember all the people ’round the world who struggle every moment of their lives with much worse problems.”

She might have said “real” problems, but made her point.

Think globally, act locally. This is now an old saw, but it works. Try as we might to imagine the endless suffering in Sudan, cyclones on top of floods in Australia, riots in Cairo, we fall short.

Looking closer to home, last week a story of real problems was recounted to the Rotary breakfast crowd. An elderly resident went to Rumford’s Public Assistance office with a problem: buy heating oil and forget needed prescription medicines, or buy the medications and skip the furnace.

“I’m going to run out of money pretty soon,” Thelma Giberson of the Public Assistance office said. She reported that in the first six months of the 2010-11 budget year, roughly 150 people, individuals and families, have received assistance. In early February 2010, $1,000 in fuel assistance had been expended. In early February 2011, $2,000 in emergency fuel assistance had been expended.

After the people spoke at the polls, and then spoke again, and then again, Public Assistance survived, but its budget was cut from $82,000 and some change for 2009-10 to $35,000. The number of applicants, Thelma told me, has increased slightly this year.

One of the reasons for the severe cuts has to do, Giberson believes, with the “very complicated” Public Assistance process. “People think I’m giving out refrigerators and insulation,” she said. She’s not.

The average taxpayer may not be aware that Public Assistance recipients are expected to pay the town back through workfare. Most do.

Moreover, the town is reimbursed for a good deal of the assistance it provides. Those payments go into Rumford’s general fund.

“I feel bad for the people who come in here,” Giberson said. “Crying, scared. They don’t want to be here. Some people just don’t understand what it’s like to be down and out, but it could happen to anyone.”

Linda Farr Macgregor is a freelance writer; contact her at [email protected]

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