Saturday, February 26, 2011

A hitchhiker's guide to life's detours

She was probably quite a sight that morning, an 81-year-old woman in her dressiest slacks and bright blue suede blazer, standing on the side of Monroe Road during rush hour – with her thumb out.

Anita Brisbin’s car had a flat tire, and she had a job interview in Cotswold. It was between 8 and 9 a.m. on a Monday, so hundreds of cars passed her heading north toward uptown, green light wave after green light wave, with no one stopping.

Then one woman did.

On Thursday, Anita sat at her kitchen table, with the woman’s business card in one hand, her phone in another. “I’m sure she’ll remember me,” she said.

It would be hard not to. Give Anita Brisbin 15 minutes – about the time it takes to get from Monroe Road to Cotswold – and she’ll guide you enthusiastically through her story. She’s a Staten Island native of French-Canadian ancestry. She's lived in several places before coming to Charlotte 30 years ago with a husband, Robert, who’d had a stroke. He has since died, and her mother, Evelyn Gianna, now 103, is in an assisted living home.

Anita, who was a Realtor for years, has spent her savings on her husband’s and mother’s care. Along with Social Security payments, she needed some extra money. That’s what put her on Monroe Road that Monday.

She had heard the new PetSmart in Cotswold was hiring and decided to give it a try. Her friends raised wary eyebrows at the idea, fretting that maybe this isn’t what you do at her age.

Anita’s response: “People should not be afraid to tackle the world.”

Of course, sometimes the world tackles you, which is what happened on the drive to PetSmart. Anita heard a funny noise, and that became a loud noise, so she pulled off Monroe and saw her tire was shredded. For some of us, that might have been it for the job interview, but Anita doesn’t like to let life decide how life will go. She locked the car and, for the first time in her life: “Put my thumb out.”

That’s when the cars passed her. And passed her. “I was getting annoyed,” she said, back at her kitchen table, but then noted: “I think they were startled. You should have seen me.” And she tilted her head back and laughed.

Which brings up one more thing you should know about Anita Brisbin: She laughs. A lot. She’s had cancer and a mastectomy, and she’s spent her savings on care for her husband and mother. “You can’t go through what I’ve gone through without a sense of humor,” she said.

So she laughs at having to look for a job at her age, and she laughs at walking up Monroe Road in rush hour traffic. And instead of dwelling on all those cars that passed her, she makes a big deal out of the one that didn’t.

“That’s who I am,” she said.

Maybe it’s how you hit 81 without slowing down.

Finally, a sedan stopped, and the woman inside asked if Anita needed help. She drove Anita straight to the PetSmart – and in time for the interview – and wished her luck . She also gave her a company business card and wrote “Nancy” on it, but Anita misplaced it and didn’t remember the business – until the card turned up on Wednesday.

On Thursday morning, Anita dialed the number and explained her story to the voice that answered. A few minutes later, Nancy Hartsell called back. Yes, she said, she remembered Anita.

She explained that she was driving to work near uptown at Hovis Radiator Co. when she passed Anita. Nancy, who is 57, thought about what she hoped someone would do if it were her mother on the side of the road. So she stopped to see if this woman needed any help. “That was really nice,” Anita said.

And: “Thank you.”

And also: “I got the job.”

So the two talked about that and pets and when Nancy might come to visit her there. “Saturdays and Sundays,” Anita told her. Another story to tell, perhaps. Another reason to laugh.


Anonymous said...


Anonymous said...

lovely story

EuroCat said...

This is the sort of story that brightens a Sunday morning!

I remember Anita's "thank you" letter to the editor a week ago...some people were sure that the "81" was a typo; others predictibly blamed President Obama for Anita's plight (he's probably responsible for her flat tire, too). I wondered who she was. I was curious about the backstory. In today's short-attention-span news cycle, yesterday's news is usually forgotten.

But, instead...all the answers are a few laughs ("'I was getting annoyed,' she said").

Thanks, Peter!

Good luck at PetSmart, Anita. You're an inspiration to those of us 25 years behind you, just hoping that we'll make it to 81, and then worrying about what we'll do when we get there.

"People should not be afraid to tackle the world".

Larry said...

I am only 56 and stop and help people, as that is what my Parents taught me. But now days people do not do anything. I can not tell you the tires and the like I have changed.

I have seen people sit in their cars and not even help people push a car off the road. And this even though they could see it would clear up the traffic mess.

What has created this cocoon of me,me, me we all live in today?

Folks if you want a crappy World for you and your kids, you have it.

Yes things are different but be careful and you can help people and still be safe. All you have to do is at least call 911 or star hp on the highway in NC for the Highway patrol. And if it is a Woman or a Woman with kids stay and wait for them to arrive.

Marilyn Gianna said...

I am not surprised by this story because this is my sister in law. She has always gone thru life with this attitude. MY HERO!!!!

Karen Hennig said...

Thank you for this story and a big thank you to her heroine. During the 80's Anita was one of the top agents at my real estate company. She delighted her customers and her fellow agents with her charm,wit and high level of customer service. Even though she was much older than most of the agents, she was among the first to embrace the computer and profit from its capabilities to enhance her business. PetSmart was smart to add her to team.

Leonard Gianna said...

Anita - I am so proud of you. Thru all your trials and tribulations, you always came out on top with a smile on your face. Love, your brother Leonard.

Lisa said...

This is my MOM! She has ALWAYS had that attitude, and tried to pass it along to all of us - a timely story with tonights Academy Awards; years ago when the first movie came out and we all loved it that became her motto - have true grit no matter what you do (including jumping into a freezing cold "lake" in upstate NY just to prove you had true grit!!) She continues on with that attitude - live and laugh every day. And just so you don't post a comment on how I should have been there for her, I live really far away in Portland, Oregon. I want her to move out here, but she won't leave my 103 year old grandmother! Rock on Mom!

eljay said...

What a wonderful story! People with attitudes like that brighten up the world around them.

Lynne Stevenson said...

God bless you, Anita and Nancy. What a great story with a happy ending. Anita, you are truly an inspiration to us all.

Anonymous said...

I admire Anita's spirit and tenacity in the golden years. I, too, remember Anita when she was a top producing fellow Realtor associate. I take care of seniors as a certified nurse assistant hoping that I make a difference in their lives; and definitely practice "treating others as I would like to be treated"! This part is very easy to give back. I have been blessed over the years.

SFR - age 66 - Aging gracefully !

Anonymous said...

Anita, what a joy you are! Not feeling "sorry" for you because #1, I admire you and #2, you wouldn't want that... however, Sweet Anita, if I could I would graciously supplement your monthly income to the point that you and your dear Mother could move to Oregon to be close to your daughter, yet have enough "funds" to have a place of your own and a private nurse for your Mom and no financial lack... of course, only if that would be a blessing to you! God Bless You, you precious inspiration!!!

Yahn said...

It has been many years since Have spoken with Anita. Yet I am not suprised. Everything that has been said is very true and much more. She has a great spirit and love of life no matter what happens. To know her is to love her!

Anonymous said...

Hate to change the subject but most people are being mercilessly killed by these high gas prices.

Where is the outrage against Obama who is fault ????????????

Nothing in the media who are protecting him since he called for major world revolution that has created this and is doing nothing about Wall St oil speculator crooks.

Revolt Now !!!!

Oust the nations leader !!!

Time to step down ....