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Our family broke down on a cross-country trip with three kids in tow. We needed an angel to help us get back on the road.
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.