Road Trip Angel

Road Trip Angel

A busted oil pan is no match for an earth angel.

Illustration of angel wearing a green hat.

We were only an hour into our 3,000-mile, cross-country trek to my family reunion in North Carolina.

Already, bored voices from the backseat of our old, un-air-conditioned Dodge Dart were pleading: “Are we there yet?” Driving wasn’t the fastest route to our destination, but it was the cheapest.

My husband, Jeff, and I had planned this trip for months, mapping it from our home in eastern Washington, highlighting campgrounds along the way. I couldn’t wait to catch up with relatives and show off Christy, our newest addition at 18 months old.

At least she wasn’t crying in her car seat—yet. Her sisters, LeeAnne, seven, and Kellye, five, were already complaining.

Even reaching this point—doing laundry, packing, planning snacks and car activities—hadn’t been easy. We’d left right after church, midday on a Sunday, the minister’s sermon on turning our worries over to God still fresh in my mind. That might have worked for someone who wasn’t carting three kids on a road trip in a car with 165,000 miles on it and an unsettling tendency to slip out of gear.

The Dart rode so low to the ground that we held our breath over speed bumps. Plus, I had to watch our pennies and keep us on schedule. All those breaks for the girls to potty could really add up. These were my worries for now. God could take over the worrying once we made it to the reunion.

We stopped for a quick lunch by a big pond in northern Oregon. “Who wants to watch Daddy skip rocks?” Jeff asked the girls.

“Not now, Jeff. We’re still ten hours from your mother’s house,” I called after him. We’d planned to spend our first night in Reno with her.

“Just a couple more. I have to beat my record!” he said. At this rate, we would never make it to the reunion.

“Try this one, Daddy!” Kellye yelled. “It’s perfect.”

Jeff fingered the pebble, nodding his approval. He pulled his arm back and released the rock with a practiced flick of the wrist.

Plop! Plop! Plip ! The last skips came so fast we could barely keep up with them. Sixteen skips in all! Each sent a swell of ripples out through the water. It always amazed me what one pebble could do. This one had left its mark for sure. It was so beautiful I nearly forgot my worries. “Okay, everybody. In the car!”

By late afternoon southern Oregon’s soaring temperatures made the Dart feel like a blast furnace. The girls were whining and arguing. “I guess we need a break,” I said.

We found a park in Klamath Falls with a wading pool. After we cooled off, we loaded up again. Jeff threw the car in reverse. But the Dart slipped out of gear and lurched forward, its bottom scraping over the concrete parking strip. The underbelly of the car ground against the barrier as Jeff got us free.

Heading down the road, Jeff looked in the rearview mirror. “Uh-oh!” he said. I looked out the back. A trail of oil snaked behind us.

Jeff groaned. “Busted oil pan.” He coasted to a spot behind a gas station, jacked the car up and crawled underneath. When he finally wriggled out, even the oil couldn’t hide the concern on his face. “It’s fixable, if I can find someone to weld the hole in the oil pan. Plus, I need more oil and a gasket. But who’re we going to find at five o’clock on a Sunday?”

Jeff and I stared at the Dart, not knowing what to do. A gravelly voice startled us. “Howdy, folks!”

We looked up at a tall man with a thatch of silver hair poking out from under a black cowboy hat. “Name’s Phil,” he continued. “Anything I can do?”

We explained the situation. “Let me make a call,” Phil said and strode to the gas station. When he returned he said the owner of the auto parts store had agreed to stay open for us. “He’s a friend,” Phil explained.

He led the girls and me to his air-conditioned van while Jeff got the bolts off the oil pan. “I’m hungry, Mommy!” Christy said.

“Me too!” her sisters chimed in.

“I know a cure for that,” Phil said. Before I could protest, he was head-ed up the road to a Dairy Queen. Hamburgers and milk shakes for everyone, including Jeff. I pulled out my wallet. “Your money’s no good here,” Phil said. Munching on my hamburger, I couldn’t resist peeking at him. Is this guy for real?

When we returned to the Dart with Jeff’s burger, he had a question for Phil. “You don’t happen to know anyone who welds, do you?”

“You’re looking at him,” Phil said.

Once again the girls and I jumped into the van. We rode to a big metal building across town. When Phil opened the place up, we gasped. A row of classic sports cars sat in various stages of restoration. “You’re welcome to look around,” Phil said. “I’ll be done in a jiffy.”

It had been a long day. Normally, the girls would be inventing new ways to annoy one another. But they were entranced. “Wow! This is cool,” LeeAnne said, running her hand over the shiny red hood of a ’59 Porsche. We lingered there studying every car until Phil returned.

“Sorry that took so long.” Funny, I hadn’t looked at my watch once. It was 7:00 p.m. Phil must have had his own schedule for the day, but when he saw we were in trouble he put his entire focus on us.

The Dart looked forlorn sitting in its puddle of oil back at the station. All that time wasted. We were still six whole hours away from Reno.

“Anyone around here like to swim?” asked Phil. “A friend of mine owns a nice little motel nearby.”

I glanced at Jeff. It would throw us a day off schedule, and we had intended to avoid motels. But then again, Phil had saved us so much.

At the motel the girls squealed when they spotted the corkscrew pool slide. I tried to give Phil some money, but he just shook his head. “Do a favor for someone else,” he said.

In our motel room, Kellye looked at me seriously. “Was he an angel?”

“Not the kind you’re thinking of,” I replied. “But he’s an angel.”

That night we bowed our heads and thanked God for sending Phil into our lives. I still couldn’t get over the attention he’d given us. The wading pool, the garage full of hot rods, the corkscrew slide, skipping rocks in the pond—who had time for worries?

I called Jeff’s mom to say we’d be there a day late. As I fell asleep I saw the surface of the pond again, ripples spreading ever outward, like angels spreading God’s radiant, never-ending love.

We were prepared to pass along the kindness Phil showed us and make our mark like a skipping stone. I’d let God worry about the schedule.

Comments