Usually I don’t write on Sundays, remembering Sabbath rest and the good that comes from unplugging but I just got to the beach and creativity flows by the ocean. Also, I had an interesting Saturday and I want to tell all about it. It was one of those days where you are sure you are starring in a TV show. Someone behind a tree is whispering, “Camera, Roll, Action,!” Really sure that soon a good looking man, maybe Ashton Kutcher or better yet Johnny Depp, definitely not Allen Funt, is going to jump out, grab you hard and give you a squeeze saying, “Smile, you’re on Candid Camera or You’ve Been Pranked!” You know for sure that if this doesn’t happen that God is definitely up there laughing his you know what off. Like he devised a test of character and strength with a pinch of fortitude, sending his angels, just to watch and see how you receive the blessing.
My middle son called and asked me how I was doing and I said awful, just awful O. “Why, did you miss your flight?” “What flight?” I asked him No, I am stuck in the middle of nowhere, sitting on a two lane road in the country with a flat tire and no spare. Who knew that a hard top convertible came without a spare? Not me. I’m guessing the salesman from Australia who sold me the car did. My middle son calls not knowing that I’m not flying somewhere or stuck in the middle of nowhere and reads me a lovely Buddhist story about an old man who’s grandson runs away and everyone said that’s too bad, then the grandson came back with an Arabian stallion and everyone said hurrah! and then the grandson fell off the horse and broke his hip and everyone said too bad and then there was a war and the grandson couldn’t go because he had a limp and everyone said hurrah again. Everyone but the grandfather, because he was too smart. When everyone said too bad, he said how do you know this is bad? And when everyone said hurrah! he said, how do you know this is good? And on and on until you probably already guessed, it turns out that the grandfather was right. You really can’t tell a blessing from a curse until much much later. Sometimes not even then.
That was the first blessing of my flat tire. Wouldn’t you agree that talking to your fully grown son about the Buddha is a lovely gift? When is the last time you were sitting in the grass by a tobacco field on a country road listening to your grown up baby read to you about life and mischance and opportunity? It was pretty amazing, I can tell you that.
Never mind that the dispatcher couldn’t find me. I told him I am sitting on highway, 117 and 50 intersecting with Seymore-Blackmore Road, country road 1343 and he said “Where’s that?” I told him again and he said the same thing. “That’s funny because I thought you’d have such an easy time finding me. Want me to take a picture of this road sign cause I am staring right at it?” And do you know what he said, he said, “No, that wouldn’t help.” And I thought to myself, “I’m getting ready to talk like my Daddy and say something like what do you mean it wouldn’t help? How can knowing and seeing where I am be unhelpful?” But I’m telling you this man wanted to fight. Bad. So didn’t say either one. Thinking that my Southern charming would get me further than a fight and it was late afternoon and getting darker a little bit earlier every day. He said, “What town are you near?” And I told him. And can you guess what he said then? “Did you pass a big white Colonial house on your right, and a seed plant on your left and then go a bit further down the road and bear hard to the left and then half a mile later take a hard turn to the right?” That’s when I thought Johnny Depp was going to jump out from behind the tree and pull me out of the car and squeeze and we’d all laugh together. But when I looked around, it was just me, my shredded tire, my trunk without a spare and an empty field of burnt tobacco. “Sir, I’m not sure, I’ve never been here before but I think I did see a big white house,” was all I could think of.
God, I love that view, thank you for setting me down right here and making me stay and really look at this beauty. As I was gazing around the car, taking in the scenery and looking for the You’ve been Pranked crew, I noticed a railroad track. “Hey I said, how about this, how about I’m sitting almost on top of a railroad crossing on highway 117/50 and Seymore-Blackmore Road, country road 1434.” At this point, I thought I was being pretty specific, right? And you know what he said then, “You can’t be.” My heart sank and just about then I started worrying about my phone battery dying, wondering why I only packed my wall charger and not a car charger when I realized that I didn’t pack it because I didn’t have one. The car was only a week old. One week and in the shop three times already. I don’t have to tell you because I’m sure you already know that my husband told me several times before I bought this car to please not do it. Oh yes he did and God bless him, when I called to tell him where I was, he GPSed my location right away. No problem. Maybe my husband should switch jobs with the dispatcher and let him be the money manager. Who knows? My husband only argued with me about one thing-no spare tire. “It’s there somewhere Julia, you’re just not looking.” But I can tell you, we had. Looked and looked and then even opened the hood in front not because we thought we’d find one but because we figured we’d better and it had to be somewhere.
But it wasn’t. Thank goodness for car manuals, angels on earth and the Internet. I figured out about the same time my husband did that I had “drive on flat” tires that could go 50 miles an hour for about 50 miles. He urged me to head for Wilmington. That was when I was still at the Exxon station which used to mean gas station with a mechanic and some equipment but now means a convenience store with water, malt liquor and lottery tickets. Pretty convenient if your thirsty and want to gamble but much less convenient if you have a flat tire.
The main part of this blog which has not even started yet was the hospitality I experienced in that little town. My flashy new car with the top down and the cream seats did not put anyone off even a little. They loved me. They embraced me and took such good care even if the first angel was a little drunk. He kept weaving around, telling me to buy some tire fixit and spray it all over and then inflate the tire and drive off. “Then it will seal itself and won’t be flat anymore.” Not really doubting him but not exactly believing, I filled the car with gas, of course I was on empty too, gave him the 76 cents he needed to buy a lottery ticket and backed up and away from him.
Then the second angel came. He was older, handsome, dark brownish wrinkles, lovely eyes smiling and reassuring. He’s the one that helped take the trunk apart and then look under the hood and then finally pull out the manual and discover we were right and my husband was wrong, that there was not a spare. Not one to give up easily, he told me to ease the car across the street to the other convenience store whose air hose was working and see if we could inflate it. Neither of us had 75 cents so I went inside and got change. He worked and finagled and put the hose on and off and then on again but the tire stayed flat. Then he had me get in and crank her up and scooch forwards and backwards and forwards again until he found the hole on the inside that was letting all the air out. I was relieved when he found it because I was terrified I was going to roll over him as he lay on the asphalt trying to find the leak. “She’s not going to blow up, all the air keeps escaping.” I gave him $8, it was half of what I had. Now didn’t your Momma tell you to put on clean underwear and get plenty of money for your wallet before embarking on a voyage? Especially if you go alone. Well I’m happy to say I had one of the two covered. I would have given him more but I thought I better keep a little bit of money in case I was thirsty or maybe got a dispatcher that couldn’t find me. You’ll never guess what he did when I handed him the dollars. He looked at it like he was trying to see how much I’d given him and then he handed me back a dollar, “Put this in the plate on Sunday,” he told me. And I said, “I sure will do that, God bless you.” Then he walked across the street, got in his car and drove off. I thought he was gone for good but do you know what he did next? He circled the block and came back to me, got out of his car looking around and said, “This town looks a little rough, maybe a bit scary, but I want you to know these are good folks here, we hardly ever have any trouble, I don’t want you feeling all nervy and scared cause you might be sitting here a while. You don’t have anything to be afraid of, just remember that.”
Angel number two definitely. By that time, having discovered that there was no spare and there was no air, my husband and I decided that I could try the 50 miles an hour for 50-75 miles. And this is when I started out for Wilmington. I got maybe 3 miles down the road when the car was shimmying and shaking and watusssing so even an optimist had to realize that this car wasn’t making it fifty miles to the closest dealership. I could really hear my husband saying I told you so because he had interrupted his Saturday with friends at the beach to try to find me. Particularly since he could and the dispatcher was still searching for my coordinates. Could I have been more clear? Doubtful. Daddy was rearing up again and I wanted to shout, “You are a lie, what kind of GPS are you using, sir?” But I didn’t. I was still working the Southern female charm angle saying, “Well you might be right but it looks like railroad tracks to me, sir.”
In come angels three through five. I’m driving down highway 117/50 toward Seymore-Blackmore road when I pass three men in their driveway. They have the biggest you know what eating grins on their faces and they are waving to beat the band. Well, I thought, not only am I loud, smelly and shimmmery shaky but I must look funny too. That was when I decided to pull over. I had been very careful not to exceed that fifty mile an hour maximum but now I slowed to thirty, twenty, fifteen and eased off the highway. They jumped in a pickup truck and followed. ‘Up-oh” I thought, “I do hope my last guardian angel was right because three men roaring up behind, laughing and jumping out could go either way.” But they just asked, “Have you got a spare?” And when I said no, but I called AAA,” they laughed even louder. It is pretty funny don’t you think? Then they piled back in their truck and spun out yelling, “That’s what you get for driving such a fancy sports car!” And I laughed and yelled, “My husband’s going to say that too because you’re right.” I don’t think they heard me, they were laughing too hard to hear. But they weren’t laughing too hard to drive three houses down and sit outside on their tailgate until the tow truck came, watching over until I was safely away.
I can keep going. I could hardly sit there for more than five minutes before someone stopped, got out of their car and asked me if I was OK. Now OK is a relative term and I wasn’t feeling so OK, but I felt safe. I felt supported and very well taken care of by that little farming community in eastern North Carolina. Once, two cars hovered together, speaking all at once, asking if there was anything I needed or what could they do. I can still feel the love. One girl stopped twice, once on the way to pick up her grandmother and then again on the way back. I don’t think her grandmother believed she had already stopped and made her do it all over. It was almost aerobic, I had to ease in and out so much.
Forty-five minutes passed this way with folks stopping and me telling, no I don’t have a spare but the tow truck and my husband are on the way and everything is OK when finally the dispatcher called and said, “I found you. You’re on highway 117/50 and Seymore-Blackmore Road.” And do you know what I said, can you guess? “Yes sir, that’s right. That’s is exactly where I am.” And not that’s what I told you almost an hour ago. “And then he said, “My driver wants to know if he comes up Seymore Road will he be able to see you?” “Yes sir, I’ll be right here.” He said, “No, I mean how far off the road are you?” I said, “RIght beside it. There’s a field and a railroad track and I am one foot off the road.” And he finally said, “So if my driver goes to Seymore-Blackmore and highway 117, he will be able to find you.” And all I said was yes sir again because I figured if everybody else could find me that the tow truck probably could too. And if he had trouble, I figured that the three men down the road drinking beer and guarding me, well they could tell him.
My husband got there about two minutes before the tow truck. We were going to Wall Mart, hoping they were open and hoping a little bit further that they had the tire to fit my flashy but not very practical convertible. They did. But before they pulled my less than one week old car onto the back of the tow truck with the tow hook that I thought surely it would take me more than seven days to need, another angel stopped.
I was so glad he came after my husband but before the towing. He stops, gets out and asks us if we need him and my husband walks away from the car, protecting me a little even though it was not necessary. Turning to this thirteenth angel, he tells him no we’re fine, the tow truck is on it’s way. And he, like the others, was disappointed. ‘Shoot, I just filled this tank here with a 100 pounds of air, I thought sure I was going to be able to fill your tire for you.” And my husband told him how nice he was and how much we appreciated his offer but that the tire wouldn’t take air and we were waiting for the tow truck. The thirteenth angel repeated himself a couple of times. I think it was pretty incredulous to him that he had all this air and I had such a need for air but we couldn’t make the exchange. Have you ever noticed how southerners like to repeat themselves especially if they like what they are saying or are saying something they just can not believe? Either way. I know Daddy did it for both. He would tell a story and end it with “Like I say,” and start the telling completely over. Finally we convinced him and he got in his truck and drove away. “See, do you believe me now? That’s what it’s been like for the last couple of hours. Can you believe how friendly these folks are?”
And about then the tow truck came, hooked up my new car with the shredded tire and towed me to Wall Mart where I bought a new one. There were so many miracles that day, too many to count, as Momma was known to say. My son calling with his Buddha story seconds after I coasted to a halt, my husband who found me and never once said “I told you so,” the warm folks who greeted me offering help and keeping me safe, even the tipsy man who needed 76 cents for a lottery ticket believed in miracles that day. I wanted to get to the beach, to swim and see my friends but I knew I’d never forget those wondrous people, all the angels who lit a lamp at my feet that day my tire blew and left me flat but not stranded because even though the dispatcher couldn’t find me, God and his earthly angels certainly could.
I kept that dollar bill in my pocket all weekend. Reaching in and fingering it over and again making sure it was still true, that the day really happened and the blessing of giving could end and begin all over with every touch. Each time I reached, a little doubt could have crept in, denying the miracle of my top down Saturday afternoon drive to the beach. But it didn’t.