First Weekend in April

Truck Fire2

My car started sputtering just as I reached the slums down by the river. “Oh please, just let me get to the church parking lot,” I whispered.

My son and I had just driven two hours to attend my niece’s Christening. The car shook and clanked as I sped into the parking lot, dashed past my mother’s car, and backed into a spot so that the car could be easily towed.

“We were wondering what all that racket was,” my mother began. “We thought it must be some crazy teenager speeding in here like that.”

“Ha! No, just me.”   I’m old enough to be three teenagers.

We all walked into the church. Then it hit me. My niece Natalie’s date, Brian is an auto mechanic. Maybe he can take a look at my car after the ceremony. I chased him down; he agreed to take a look.

The Deacon performing the service was visibly nervous, like he had not yet completed his Dale Carnegie Courses. I thought it odd that someone who talks for a living had such a hard time with it. Of course the acoustics in the building didn’t help. The church was built in the 1800’s, long before microphones, and I always assumed that was the reason that the sound quality was so bad. Mumbling and echoes filled the air.

The baby looked like a small princess in her lacy baptism gown, complete with hat and fancy little shoes. She didn’t even cry when the water was poured over her head.

We went out to the parking lot. Brian popped the hood of my car and knew immediately what needed to be fixed.  A nut had come lose from a bolt, and the pulleys for the belts had come loose. The whole assembly fell down and was clanking as it spun. “Look at this belt – it’s down to one thread – if that broke it would pull out the water pump and the alternator.”

My son and I caught a ride to the Baptism luncheon with my cousin and aunt. The family had rented a room at the firehouse. We had a nice 6-foot sub, some salad and various Italian standards such as chicken parmesan and spaghetti and meatballs.

Brian told me he would tow the car to the shop and have it done the next day. Meanwhile, I needed to get back upstate. My son had to be back at college, and my husband needed my help with ‘secretarial duties’. My mother offered to drive us back. We decided she would stay overnight, and I would come back down with her in the morning, and get my car.

Mom had to get back because she had to go to court Monday night. She was working on evicting her tenants from her upstairs apartment. Unfortunately, she had not screened them carefully. They did not fill out a tenant application. They did not have a renter’s agreement in writing. They had started out by giving her the deposit, and slowly moved their stuff into the apartment over the course of a few weeks. They did not have a good credit score, so Utility Services, the local utility company wanted a $400 deposit, which they did not have. Mom told them she would keep the utilities in her name, and they could pay her back each month when she showed them the bill. This worked fine for the first few months, but they stopped paying her. Oh and did I mention that meanwhile, they bought 2 pit bull puppies?

Their truck, which also served as their garbage dumpster, was parked in the driveway next to the downstairs tenants’ entry way. Each day, they would dump a new bag of garbage into the truck bed. Flies multiplied, and entered the downstairs apartment, leading to complaints from those tenants.

Mom told them to move the truck. Finally, they asked a friend drive the truck to the dump. On the way, the truck started backfiring, so the friend drove it back to the house, where the engine caught fire. The downstairs tenants, with their infant, fled the apartment through the Bilco basement doors. The engine fire moved on to the truck bed, where it feasted on the garbage.

So I was helping Mom prepare for court. She had given them a 30 day notice, was trying to evict them from the apartment. I printed out the picture of the truck during and after the fire.

Every picture tells a story, don’t it?

I created an Excel spread sheet with a time line and the issues with the apartment. On March 12, Mom had told them she was taking Utility Service out of her name. A landlord is required to give 3 days’ notice for them to put the utilities into their own name before the power is turned off. March 12 to March 15 was ‘notice’.  But since it is winter, they were in “winter mode” which means that the Utility Company cannot legally turn off their power, so they were getting free heat and electric.

Monday April 8 was the court date. Now, 35 years ago to the day, my high school boyfriend, Jerry died. Usually April 6 – 8 I can’t get out of bed.  Somehow this year was different.

I got a call from Brian that the car was fixed, and to meet his brother at the shop and pick up my car.

The shop was on Rockford Avenue, in the town where my mother has spent her whole life.  We got off the Highway and drove down Rt. 88 and were just a few blocks from the shop. My sister Marge called to say that Joe, my step father, was trying to get a hold of my mother, and Marge had no idea what he was saying, and please call him. Mom turned her cell phone on, and Joe called.  Joe was saying something about the tenants called the cops while he was over there cleaning up the tree branches in the yard, and the power had gotten shut off in the apartment, and why did my mother turn the power off?

Meanwhile, my mother is trying to make a right hand turn, one hand on the phone, and one hand on the steering wheel. I closed my eyes as we just narrowly missed a car stopped at the red light. We continued down the road, looking for number 178 as she yelled back and forth with Joe that she did not turn off the power.

We saw 190, 200. Since we had gone too far, Mom pulled into an apartment complex to turn around, and had just thrown it into reverse when the car in back of us blew his horn. Yikes, close call. She turned around in the parking lot, and we headed back the way we came. We stopped at the little strip mall where the numbers went from 190 to 136. We are missing something. I called Brian, and could barely understand him. Then he said it was next to Smith’s Shoe store. It was then that we realized we had turned a block too soon, and where on the wrong road, yes, in the town Mom had lived in her whole life.

We drove across the side street and got onto the correct road. We went past Mark’s Muffler Shop, which is where Jerry was employed right before he died. In fact, he had just gotten a raise on that Friday, and the boss had warned him not to think he was rich and not show up on Monday. Chilling words.

Finally we pulled into the right place and I saw the guy next to my car. He said “Hi my name is Jerry.” Now what’s the chances of that?  I paid the man and took my keys and drove off.

We drove back to my mother’s house, on Fox Road, the road which Jerry had died on, and turned onto my Mom’s street.

How could God orchestrate that my car would safely get to the parking lot, that it was exactly April 8 that I was at Mark’s Muffler shop, meeting a guy named Jerry, and driving on the exact road he died on to get to my mother’s house?

I don’t believe in coincidence.

We went back to Mom’s house, changed into business attire, and proceeded to court.

When I was a kid, we often visited my grandmother on Sutton Street. The next door neighbor had a baby named Jimmy. Jimmy’s mom, Mrs. Woods, would bring him out to the back yard while she did the dishes and ask us to keep an eye on him. When she finished the dishes she would throw us handfuls of lollipops.

The Judge at court that night was Jimmy Woods.

I don’t think he remembered me; we had met again a few years ago at a pizza place. I remember his son looked exactly like he did at that age.

We listened to the other court cases while waiting for ours to be called.

Unfortunately, the paper work my mother filled out for the eviction was incorrect, so Jimmy had to throw the case out. But his advice was, please get an attorney to help you.

I left in the morning and decided—well, since I’m in town, I might as well stop at the graveyard. There is a small placard which has his name and date on it, that is supposedly still there at his gravesite. Jerry’s father never bought him a tombstone; he was too angry because of the manner he which he died. He was racing a friend—on Fox Road. He was racing side-by-side when he saw headlights from an oncoming car. When he pulled in front of his friend, he hit a cement post, and flipped the car. He died instantly. He was 20 years old. I was 17.

I walked through the graveyard, trying to remember all those years ago when I had visited on a regular basis. I tried to remember how far from the tree, how far from the driveway of the cemetery his grave was. But I could not find it.

I noticed that the church across the street was open. I went over, and asked the secretary if she could help me find a plot. I explained who I was. She explained that she was just filling in for the regular person who handled that. I explained that I was from out of town and could not just stop back tomorrow. I was just about out the door, when an elderly man rode down the staircase in one of those moveable riding staircase chairs. I’ve always wanted one of those.  Anyway, he was able to look up in a book, and find that it was section D, plot 65.

I went back to the graveyard, but I was still not successful. I prayed and asked God, begged Him to let me find the grave. I walked all around and couldn’t find it. I prayed and asked some more. I felt God was not going to answer, and later I would know why.

I decided to drive home. I stopped for a coffee break about 30 minutes into the drive. I was drinking my coffee and eating my bagel, when one of the employees, who was sweeping the floor came nearby me. “Ma’am,” he started.  I wasn’t sure if he was talking to me or not. He looked at me and said, “Have a nice day. I’m keeping it clean.” He picked up his broom and showed it to me. Then he continued across the room, sweeping as he went.

I was not sure if he was deaf, or somehow impaired, as he spoke with a speech impediment. I realized how uncomfortable I always feel when someone like that talks to me. Why do I feel uncomfortable? He’s not going to murder me.  I’m afraid people like that are going to steal my energy, I think. I need to get over that.

I finished my snack, and looked in my purse to see if I had a Gospel of John to give him. I try to always carry some with me in case there is someone to give it to. I looked around at all the people, and felt God whispering, “If you prayed that I would send you to tell someone about me as much as you prayed to find the grave of a dead person…..” Wow. I’m still digesting that one.

I left a Gospel of John on the counter and hoped that one of the cleaners would find it.

I got back onto the highway and drove another hour toward home. I was going to stop at Exit 8, but I happened to look in my rear view window, and noticed my husband’s car. He was driving up from an appointment he had that morning.

It struck me odd that the timing was so in synch. He had no idea when he was getting out of his appointment, and I had no idea when I was going to drive home.

Yet God had planned our meeting on the highway, and we drove home and pulled into the driveway at the same time to share our stories of the past two days.

I still don’t believe in coincidences. Through all this insanity, I know God is still orchestrating my life, the good the bad and the ugly. His ways are higher than my ways for sure.

All those times I thought I was alone, God was watching everything.

I once read that our lives are like a tapestry, we only see the mistakes and the knots. But God sees what is being produced on the other side, the beautiful picture.

***** This story is true, the street names, businesses and human names have been changed to protect the innocent and disguise the guilty.

And sorry folks, this is NOT short!

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