Last week my friends Susan and Joanne and I renewed a tradition we once had. Long ago we started traveling to Myrtle Beach or Hilton Head on Black Friday for a marathon Christmas shopping excursion.

We stopped doing this when Susan moved to the Dominican Republic to teach. She was there for seven years and then returned four years ago, but we somehow never got back in the groove of that Black Friday tradition until this year.

So last Friday morning we headed out bright and early to hit the outlets on the way into Hilton Head. We spent the day in the two sets of shops there, ate dinner at Hudson’s and then checked into our hotel for an early night so we could continue the shopping Saturday morning.

So far, so good.

We shopped until we honestly couldn’t fit any more in the car and decided to head home early on Saturday. We stopped on the way at Okatie Ale House, on the recommendation of strangers who obviously knew their way around the area, and it was delicious. (I highly recommend the crab and corn chowder, by the way.)

We were on the road for home by around 5 p.m., and just settling into the boring trek. Susan commented that the people behind her could just pass her because, she joked, it would be better to hit a deer at 55 mph rather than 65 mph.

Famous last words.

We were just about exactly 100 miles away from home – according to our trusty GPS – when we heard and felt “KaBlam!” We saw nothing. We couldn’t figure out exactly what had happened. Susan might have continued on, oblivious to anything wrong, except the engine light came on. She pulled over at the first gas station we encountered, and we all got out to assess the damage. It was brutal.

The driver’s side front was completely bashed in, though the headlight was somehow still glowing. And something was dripping onto the concrete.

As we stood there, still trying to come to terms with what happened, a couple of folks walked up to offer assistance. One immediately said, “You hit a deer.” She pointed out hair on the fender – or what was left of the fender. And she pointed to a streak along the side of the car, which Susan had mistaken for mud. The stranger said, “No, honey. That’s deer (poop)!” Good Samaritan number one.

Another person walked up. His name was Jared, and he was on his way to Florida from Delaware. And he happened to be an airplane pilot and mechanic. He apologized for not having his diagnostic meters with him, but he checked what he could on the car’s computers. In consultation with Susan’s son, Ernie, who is a certified VW mechanic in addition to being an engineer, Jared – Good Samaritan number two – ascertained the car didn’t seem to have any significant mechanical damage, except the battery was leaking. (The battery on Susan’s car is just below and behind the driver’s side headlights.)

Jared and Ernie agreed we needed to find an auto store – one that was actually open at 6:30 on a Saturday evening.

Now, realize the deer hit us just outside of Tillman – ever heard of it? Neither had I. The nearest auto store was seven miles away in Ridgeland – ever heard of that? Neither had I. So we carefully drove to the first of two parts stores to see if we could get the battery replaced and, with luck, at least make the check engine light go out.

The man at our first stop said they would not be willing to brave the ruins of the front end to change the battery, so we headed a few blocks away to the O’Reilly’s, where we met yet another Good Samaritan, named Richard.

Meanwhile, we began to worry that maybe we should call the police. I tried to call the Ridgeland Police, but the dispatcher said since we hit the deer in Tillman we probably should talk to highway patrol. She patched me through, and the state patrol dispatcher said she’d check with a trooper, but she thought we needed to contact the insurance company, because some don’t require a police report for an animal-vs-vehicle collision. Sure enough, Susan checked with her insurance company, and they told her she could just report in to them on Monday.

Then Highway Patrol Cpl. Stephens – Good Samaritan number four – took information over the phone and gave me a case number to put on the collision report. He also said just to fill out a collision form either on line or at our local DMV and to call the insurance company on Monday – no need to wait for him to get to us that night.

Back to Richard at O’Reilly’s – he was willing to try to change out the battery and spent the next hour or more removing parts of the car so he could get to the battery to replace it. He then got out the Gorilla tape and bound Susan’s car back together well enough for us to drive home. Susan gave him a hug – and he admitted it had been a pretty boring Saturday evening until we came along.

I learned several lessons here. First, Susan managed to keep her cool, think logically and work through to a solution. Joanne likewise pulled it together, holding the flashlight for Richard. I, of course, chronicled the events with my camera. I also learned there are still an awful lot of nice, caring people in this world who go out of their way to help a person in distress.

Yes, we all three called the men in our lives, but not to ask for help – though Joanne’s husband, Clarke, offered to come and get us. Susan, as I mentioned, called her son for auto advice. I called Tom, who had just gotten off and airplane from Virginia, mainly to let him know why we’d be later than expected. I did also call Mac, my son, the hunter, to say I wish he had killed the deer that caused all the trouble.

We finally got back on the road around 9 p.m. Susan asked, “What are the chances of hitting two deer in one night?”

I said, “I do not want to talk about it.”

We didn’t have to find out.