“You need help?”
“I did it this time didn’t I?”
“I’ve driven from coast to coast on backroads but never experienced this one yet,” I chuckled surveying the tire so flat it had collapsed in on itself with an angry pop and forceful hiss after I clipped the partially buried wedge of shale forcing a split in the sidewall of the tire.
I also didn’t mention I’ve never experienced a flat, had no tire changing skills, and am often confounded by tools, although more often than not I do sort it out, given enough time. “Chin up ol gal. Somehow things will soon be right as rain,” I whispered internally pushing back the image of a spring shower exploding into an Oklahoma tornado.
“So can we help you then?”
“Are you in a rental? I know you probably need to get it back in time?” I replied with false bravado to honor the southern code of “thou shalt not impose.”
“No. These are ours. We’re in no hurry,” he nodded to the four rumbling ATVs waiting on the side of the remote narrow forest road across from my Outback.
“I don’t have cell service but a family drove by and took my information to call AAA and Subaru Roadside Service. It’s ok if you’d rather not. I’m sure someone will come,” I explained oozing ignorance about the likelihood of a service vehicle maneuvering the rough ATV trails half an hour off gravel roads and another hour to the first town on paved road.
“Then we’d better get to work. You guys ready?” he replied with reassurance that soothed the hard lump in my gut.
I held up my hand to stop him. “There’s just one more thing I should show you before you volunteer to help. It’s quite the hassle,” I warned moving to the rear of my car to open the hatch and reveal the solid wood chest of drawers built to fit in the full cargo area of the Subaru. My favorite carpenter had built it for me to haul my gear. With all the drawers removed it still takes two strong people to lift. Someday I’ll find someone to build it out of lightweight aluminum but for now this 300 pound behemoth serves me well.
“Deal is the spare is under this. It’s hard to remove. You sure you’re still up for this?” I asked turning to him fully prepared to see serious back peddling. This would not be a simple tire change.
“I’m going to need one of you to help back here,” he quietly motioned.
At his signal engines shut off and a crowd of men and women gathered around. I recognized the quiet, exquisite manners, and warm compassion of these Black Hills folks who respectfully restrained their comments. My wide-open Oklahoma plains girl quickly threw open the door to release the mounting pressure.
“I can’t believe not one of you has laughed yet!” I allowed.
The tallest man released a short, healthy guffaw and the women began to softly chuckle. Everyone began sharing thoughts, opinions and good-natured jokes and one began videoing my predicament. I doubled over allowing my own belly laughing to release the tension and fully receive the openhearted gift of this remarkable family.
And family they are. Three strapping brothers, their sister, mother, and a sister- and brother-in-law out for a picnic near beautiful meadows and old mine in Castle Peak wilderness area of the Black Hills National Forest in South Dakota.
I quickly declined their invitation to join them for their picnic even though I couldn’t imagine a lovelier opportunity. I would be dining with angels in one of God’s most beautiful settings. These folks are so good to the bone they didn’t even trigger Rocky who is well known for his keen ability to read the true character of folks. He will not allow anything unsavory near me. He slept soundly through the entire ordeal until I shuffled him out of the back seat and into the front to make room for the ruined tire.
I also knew I’d not only be intruding on family time but also would never make it back to camp on a spare. My tires are not common stock either. It was another miracle of the day that Tires Plus in Rapid City was able to track down one tire in the whole city. One is all I needed! (I highly recommend this business on Haines in Rapid City, South Dakota).
With a grateful heart we shook hands, hugged thank you’s and good byes and went our separate ways. Just as I was getting in my car a mammoth, cobalt blue 4×4 pick up pulled up and offered help. I shook his hand in introduction and George swore I was the spitting image of his cousin. He may have missed out on the heavy lifting but he did stay in my site until we hit paved road where he waved good-bye.
My first calls when I reached cell service were to cancel the service requests made on my behalf by the family who first stopped. The call center folks couldn’t find me even with member and car VIN numbers as well as my name, address, and phone. There’s no way that family could have filed a service request with these computer system blocks. Indeed no call was registered at either company. Had I refused the help I might still be stewing in my own vulnerable pot of pride and self-sufficiency.
A week earlier when I entered the deep forests, meadows, creeks and cliffs of the Black Hills I immediately felt peace, safety and belonging in my marrow. My sleep has been deep and filled with adventurous dreams of close-knit family living here for generations. My camp in the pine and spruce forest has been busy with visitors of all kinds. The same bumblebee lived with us for three days. Two majestic bucks visit the raspberry field by the river every evening while I’m fly fishing for leaping brookies. Hummingbirds dive for my morning maple syrup. Angels dance with fairies and family long gone embrace me with a smell, a warm breeze, and memories of laughter and love. In all my travels it’s the longest I’ve stayed in one spot and I have no desire to leave.
It is exquisite living even with the occasional hassles and bummers. I do keep my guardian angels on their toes.
The West Family of Watertown, South Dakota appeared within minutes of my need and blanketed me in quiet efficiency, gracious humor, and willingness to make my problem theirs without batting an eye.
I briefly explained to Mother West how I came to be found solo on the back roads in need. She quietly listened and to my great surprise and delight she observed, “You are free! Having many adventures! And you are a writer aren’t you?”
In that instant I felt her unity with my journey in the very empty seat beside her. Yes the blessing of close, loving, grown children surrounded her. But she too knew unbearable loss and lonely, dark grief. I’ll never forget the glow of her face when she observed “you are free!” I think like me, she lives a celebrated recovery beyond the losses with a grateful mindfulness of the gift of each breath every day simply because we are alive.
Dear West Family and blue pick up George know that I still feel your infusion of safety, reassurance, and rescue. Your big medicine is now a part of me available to ground and guide me during the next calamity. May your blessings return to each of you in the gentle breeze with my grateful hug.