At Thanksgiving, my mind turns to angels. The strange thing about angels is that most people have it wrong. They think they should have wings and wear white robes. Nope. Real angels look just like you and me. They often enter our life, then disappear into the hurly burly of life. I expect there is lots of demand for their services.
One of my angels appeared just outside Denver, Colorado.
We’d been living in Nevada, Missouri for four years. Great job in a college for young women but the opportunity to return to Canada had come in an unexpected phone call asking me if I’d like a job at the University of Victoria. It might seem like an easy decision but it wasn’t. I loved southern Missouri. I loved the heat (my bursitis disappeared), the shower roses, the pecan pie, the cicadas, the sense of living every day with history, the people with their soft drawling voices (my son’s name, Val, was drawn out to about three syllables, stretched like golden toffee).
However, the lure of Victoria with its charming Old England fakery, its harbour, the ocean, fresh fish, its moderate climate, its monkey puzzle trees, Murchie’s tea house, a hundred different things made me say yes, sure, of course.
We loaded up a too large Uhaul, we took everything, the piano, new stove, the kids, the cat. The cat and the kids were in the car, but you know what I mean and, early one morning, we eased away from the curb outside our house with the mulberry tree, past the pecan and redbud trees, and soon were in Kansas.
All went well until we were just outside of Denver then the car overheated on a steep slope. I am congenitally incapable of understanding motors; however, even I could see that our fan belt had broken.
There I was in the middle of nowhere, a wife, two kids, a cat, a trailer. If I’d been a fix-the-motor with strange stuff like my father, I would have used a pair of my wife’s panty hose or something but I’m not. At the moment of greatest despair, a truck pulled up behind me, the trucker got out, said, “Ya’ll havin’ trouble?”
He took a look, then said, “They’ll be fine, you come with me.” He took the broken fan belt, I hopped into the truck and off we went. It was a long drive to the next place with a garage that had car parts for sale. It was hot. He reached into a cooler, opened a can of cold beer and handed it to me. I don’t normally drink beer but I wasn’t turning it down.
The garage didn’t have the fan belt we needed. “That’s okay,” the trucker said. “There’s a garage down the road.”
Over hills, down hills, until we came to another garage. They did have a fan belt. We turned around and headed back to the car. My wife, daughter, son, cat were limp with the heat. No shade. Wickedly large sun.
He pulled out some tools, loosened things, pried on the fan belt, tightened things. I started the motor. Everything worked. I was weak with relief.
“What do I owe you?” I asked.
He laughed. “Nothin’,” he said and squeezed my shoulder. I got a business card off him before he disappeared down the highway with a wave.
His truck disappeared over the crest of a hill.
“Nothin’,” he’d said. “Nothin’. You don’t owe me nothin’”.
I sat sideways with the car door open, overcome with relief.
“We made our way through Oklahoma, through Utah, through Washington State, onto the ferry at Port Angeles, cleared customs and parked in the driveway of our rented house in Victoria, safe.
I’d had one book published then. Bloodflowers. I opened boxes until I found a copy and I signed it to “Our highway angel” and mailed it.
“Nothin’,” the word rings like a bell in my head every time I think of that highway, no houses, no commercial buildings, no people in sight, the baking sun, the heat, my wife and kids, the car and trailer immobile. “Nothin’.”
That’s what angels say when you ask, “What do I owe you for kindness, generosity, time, effort?”