Sunday night, and I’m returning home from a family christening—Gavin’s baptism and a gathering of friends and family. It’s 5:40, I’m back in Pennsylvania, planning the evening’s activities awaiting me a mere seventy minutes away when it happens. A pop, and a shuddering shimmy as the van skids across lanes, and then a loud BANG, BANG, as the carcass of what was once a rear tire slammed against the wheel well. I have enough control to coast to the right berm, off the road, and even beyond the rumble strip.
After the adrenaline ebbs just a bit, it’s time for assessment. All in all, things are pretty okay. I’m fine. The van, other than a smoking, shredded hulk of a tire, is okay. I’m actually off the road, and it is warm for November in my neck of the woods, without rain, sleet, or snow—all of which were present two weekends ago. The motor runs, the heater works, and most importantly, I am on a stretch of highway where there is cell phone signal (not a given in much of Northern PA).
I call my insurance roadside assistance...and begin to look at the “non-silver” side of this little cloud that has visited my personal bubble. The friendly assistant wants to know where I am, which is about fourteen miles north of Mansfield, Pennsylvania, on US Route 15.
“Is that old Route 15?”
“Oh, no,” I assure her. “The brand- spankety new four-lane US Route 15, with guard rails, and mobile phone service.”
“Uh, okay...what city are you in?”
“None. I am fourteen miles north of Mansfield, Pennsylvania.”
“Well, then, what town is that? What is the closest cross road?”
Obviously, the call center is somewhere in a metropolis, and the lovely lady I’m talking to has no real idea of how much of America is just empty. I finally convince her that I am not near a city, and that I have identified the largest population center near me. I have slipped the bonds of the top fifty cities and markets of the USA and am roaming in the wilderness. We then move to phase two of the story, new to my phone friend, but “oh-so-familiar” to those who drive clunkers on Sunday.
“I cannot find a service provider in your area that is open.” (Of course not. It’s now after six on Sunday evening.) Eventually, the service contacts a tow truck—eighty minutes away—and provide the name and phone number as they contact them. I call and get the guy on duty, who is an old pro at towing, old vans, and rural life. With this contact, I now have professional help. But, there is a catch. He can only take me fifteen miles. Mind you, it will take him seventy miles to get to me from his home base, and he is actually thirty miles east of that on a call, so we are now looking at help over 100 miles away, who will be able to take me to Mansfield. He will be here around 8:15 and will keep me updated. Having tried to get help on weekend nights all over rural America, I know he is realistic, and I truly believe he will be here as soon as he can, and that is not a given in any “stranded on the road” saga. As he hooks up the lumbering beast and gets me to the tire shop, he tells me that he and the “wet behind the ears” part timer are taking care of all the breakdowns in most of five or six counties—an area the size of Connecticut.
On to damage control, for I have to take Tracy to the dentist tomorrow. I need to let her know that my horse is shot, and I suspect that I will be out of commission for a couple of days while I negotiate repairs and the van’s return to home in Avis. So I text (she doesn’t have cell service except for texting where she lives—see prior comments on signal in rural Pennsylvania). The appointment is important, she is now out of a ride, and her first text back is “Are you all right? Do you need help??”
And it is right there that the paradigm shifts and I get gobsmacked by the depth of grace in this world. For her partner calls me (to do this he is standing on the road outside their house) and says, “Where are you? Are you okay? I’m coming to get you now!”
Now, I do help them occasionally. Their sons are my grandsons, without quotation marks. We say it’s so—it’s so. They treat me as special, and thank me often for the things that I do, which is mostly taking Tracy and the boys to medical appointments. It’s easy to get into the rut of helper and helpee, and it takes something like this to point out that is simply not the way of it. The tie that binds us flows both ways, without hesitation. I do ask Jeff to wait until I get the tow and get the van off the road, and then ask him to pick me up where I have to leave the van. He is there and waiting as I pull in, around 9:30 p.m. He then takes me home and says that he is so happy that when I needed him he had a vehicle and gas in the tank, so that he could come get me. And the kicker? I have a serious plumbing issue that reared its ugly head early Sunday morning. He comes in, looks at it, (at 11 p.m., thank you...) and will call a friend tomorrow, so that I can get it fixed within the friends and family circle. I go to bed at home, safe and secure.
And the Grace is not just in one family, in one spot. This morning, over coffee, I began to tally who I could call on the side of the road. The list got mighty long, and I simply couldn’t see the end of it. It included my brother and sisters, and all the people who call them family. In the case of my blood family, we all have family by blood/ marriage and family created by the bonds of heart and soul. It makes for a great circle of love and care. It means that I could call the adopted “heart” daughter of my sister’s life partner, and she would most likely come for me, or send help. There is a sea of people between us with ties, and that is enough, even though neither of us has needed the other’s help before.
Then there are friends, including a dear friend with many vision and mobility problems who I talked to while waiting on the road. Her first response to finding out I was stranded: “Do you need me to come get you?” I thought of other sticky situations in many other places, and the friends who came to help. Again, the list stretched on and on.
Yes, I’m lucky. I’m blessed. But I’m not alone. So many of us are so lucky and blessed in a circle of care, concern, and love. It took a few hours in the dark of a Pennsylvania night with the semis roaring by to jog my memory and feel the power. But it’s always there. It was a fine use of a beautiful Sunday night.
Thank you, all!