Real Angels Among Us
Some winters ago I was living temporarily in Driggs, Idaho with my two sons. We were staying in a condo while there to get the feeling of life in a new town. It was kind of a trial experiment to see if we wanted to move to a location other than in Sandy, Utah, and also live closer to family members who actually resided in cities surrounding that area. Greg wasn't able to live with us that particular winter, due to work, but was visiting us on the weekends when he could.
At the time Greg and I had two married daughters, one son on a mission for the LDS Church in Argentina, a daughter who couldn't fathom a move her senior year to anywhere else on the planet, so she stayed put in Sandy with her father, and two sons struggling to make good choices in their lives. I suppose in retrospect Greg and I were really contemplating a place like Driggs, Idaho hoping our two youngest sons would discover exemplary new friends while there and refuse to leave. Was saving our sons from making disastrous choices with the wrong crowds of friends worth a move? That's exactly what we didn't know and were carefully trying to feel out. Prayers, guts, and determination had gotten us that far.
To put it mildly...it got pretty dang lonely up in those mountains that winter. The condo was lovely and warm, the boys tucked into school and hating it, but life wasn't the same without Greg or my girls. The days ticked by slower than a broken clock, and the nights seemed as endless. We didn't have cable, only local channels in the condo. If the boys and I wanted to watch older videos on television, a small video shop, which was really a hundred year old home starving for paint, sat on main street in the middle of the four plus blocks that made up the business section of the town. Some nights it was worth trying to rent a video, and some nights...it felt far better to take a walk after dark and listen to the ice and snow crunch beneath my boots.
I have to admit that winter was different in Driggs than what I'd experienced in Sandy. When outside biting cold crawled up my nose and froze everything; what didn't freeze...dripped. The cold burned its way down the back of my throat and into my lungs more times than I liked to count. I got used to numb cheeks, mouth, fingers, and toes that got cold even with heavy wool socks and insulated boots. Speaking without a slur was impossible, until I was back in the house thawing body parts. Yep! Driggs, Idaho could get bitter cold in the winter.
One thing that I found rather enjoyable while the boys were in school was to drive to Rexburg and Idaho Falls during the day. I owned a suburban with good snow tires, so I was fairly confident I could navigate tricky roads without wrecking our car. That being said, winter in Driggs taught me that sometimes it didn't matter what kind of vehicle you drove--four wheel drive or standard--icy roads were unpredictable, and in spite of my best efforts, I could slide past a stop sign or slip right off the road into several feet of snow.
One late afternoon a farmer with chains and a tractor pulled me out of a ditch where all four tires were completely buried in dirty gravelly snow. Rocking my car back and forth had only sunk me deeper. The boys had pushed the car until they were exhausted; they were wearing coats and gloves to dig me out and were still half frozen. When the farmer drove down the road and stopped long enough to climb out of his tractor and grab a long fat chain, I quickly climbed out of the car and jumped up and down. "You're hear to save us!" I called while waving to him. "Thank you so much!"
On days that weren't snowing too heavy, though, and when I thought the roads would be less icy and slick, I'd head out to go see my sisters. They both lived in Rigby, so it was great fun to go find a Mexican or Chinese restaurant to catch a bite to eat in the Falls. Sometimes we'd shop at an antique mall that was in the older section of town, spending hours looking for just the right bygone thing to collect. Unfortunately, shopping every day in the Falls, especially with boys in school, wasn't possible. They were struggling to make an adjustment and missing family just like me, so we needed to spend a lot of time together. Plus Greg reminded me on more than one occasion that our funds were not inexhaustible.
Trying to help me fill the new void in my life, one of my older daughters talked (begged) her husband into letting her come for a visit one week. She lived in Tooele, Utah at the time, so it was a long drive for her. "You came!" I screamed when I opened the door to our condo and found her standing there with her two children.
"We've come to play in the snow!" The children hugged her legs and looked so tickled to be there.
"Come in!" I said to them. "We can drink hot chocolate tonight, read some stories, and play tomorrow until we freeze." The boys were delighted. They quickly set homework aside and played with their two little nephews until they all screamed and giggled so loud my daughter and I thought they'd never fall asleep.
After breakfast the next morning, and I'd driven the boys to school, we put on our snow clothes and built a snowman in a little field near the condo. The children weren't ready to go in yet, so we sat them in a round plastic dish and pulled them up and down the snow-covered street, stopping long enough to have a snowball fight. We showed the children how to lay down in the snow and wave their arms and legs together to make snow angels. The snow was a bit crunchy, so it took more effort than in newer softer snow, but it was a lot of fun. The little boy's noses ran constantly, and their cheeks grew bright red and stayed that way even after we went indoors and warmed them up. Still, their laughter brightened up the long winter day, especially for me.
It snowed during the night, big heavy flakes that covered the snow angels we'd made earlier that day. Once the children were asleep, and the boys in bed reading, my daughter and I stepped outside and let the snow fall on our eyelashes and faces before we got too cold. We laughed and talked, remembering the days when she was the little girl and loved winter as much as her children. "I called my sisters to tell them that tomorrow would be the perfect day for us to meet in the Falls. We can take the children to McDonalds, let them play on the toys while we talk," I told her.
"Sounds fun," she told me. "Can't wait to see them."
She looked sleepy after her full day of playing in the icy mountains. Truth be told, her cheeks were as red as her children's. I reached down, scraped a patch of dirty snow away, then grabbed a handful of clean snow and took a bite, loving the way it melted in my mouth. "We better go in before we freeze." Our breath condensed visibly each time we spoke. Shivering, I turned and walked back into the house.
"Gross!" she said from behind me.
"I heard that!"
After I shut the door and locked it, she turned toward me, smiling wide. Her mouth hung open, chucked full of snow. "Just kidding, Mom. I love the stuff." Does anyone ever outgrow eating snow? Perhaps...but not that night.
I woke the next morning at dawn to the sun hanging low on the horizon. From the living room window glistening fingers of yellow light spread across the farthest edge of the sky, disappearing behind suspicious looking clouds quite possibly brewing another storm. Snow had fallen during the night, blanketing the ground with mounds of white that sparkled like diamonds. I loved seeing the combination of new snow and first morning's light.
Nine o'clock came and we had our purses, coats, children packed into their car seats and were headed down the road in the suburban. Though patches of blue could be seen the air felt harsh and cold under the sporadic cloud covered sky.
There were two ways to drive to Idaho Falls from Driggs. One way headed northwest over the dry farms and went through Rexburg. The other road took you through Swan Valley, over twisting dangerous curves that led directly into Idaho Falls. I chose to take the road over the dry farms to Rexburg, as less curves seemed less risky to me. We stopped at the combination BurgerKing/convenience store/gas station on the north end of town to get some gas and buy breakfast.
My daughter took the children into the store while I proceeded to swipe my credit card and begin fueling the SUV. It was then I noticed two men making their way toward me. One of them was taller with blondish hair that hung to his collar. They both wore jackets, but had no gloves or hats. Outside of my suburban only one other truck seemed to be getting gas. Had they come in the truck then? No other vehicle was parked in the parking spaces near the Burger King and convenience store. It was early yet. So it wasn't unusual in the middle of winter for the store to be less busy at this time of day. I even looked behind me to see if there was someone else they were headed to see. No one stood outside except me and them. I remember listening to their boots crunch on the ice and snow.
I didn't in any way feel threatened, though confusion over the fact it was now obvious they planned to talk hit me square in the face. What did they want from someone like me? I unscrewed the gas cap and stuck the elephant-nosed gas pump into the hole on the side of the SUV, clicking the handle into place so that it continued to fill the SUV without me having to hold it. When I looked up they both stood in front of me, and I found myself looking directly into the taller man's eyes...the strangest eyes I've ever seen. His eyes weren't just the color of a pale blue sky in the middle of winter; they seemed charged with extra life. A strange light moved inside his eyes, which today still seems beyond my understanding. Something about this man and his companion told me they were very different.
"You and your daughter are on your way to Idaho Falls today?" he asked me.
That caught me off guard. His voice was soft, not high but soothing and firm--dare I say manly? The tone elicited not only felt calming but somehow made me feel okay about answering him. I felt surprise ripple across my face. "Yes."
"You're headed across the dry farms?" The blue in his eyes was penetrating. He seemed genuinely concerned.
Goosebumps rose suddenly on my arms and legs and rolled down my back. How could this strange man and his companion know anything about me? The other man standing next to the one talking to me remained silent. It's not that I forgot he was there, but the man talking to me had my attention, and he was keeping it, or so it felt to me.
This time I nodded vigorously before saying, "Yes, we are."
His eyes held me as securely as any bug in a collection. I couldn't turn away or move from where I stood because I was so caught up in what was happening in his eyes and what he was saying to me that nothing else mattered. "You must not drive to Idaho Falls today. Do not take either road...go home and play with your family," he told me. "The roads aren't safe."
That's all he said. Then he and his companion turned and walked into the convenience store. Who were these guys? I glanced down at the gas handle, which had stopped pumping gas, and immediately followed them. The pump could wait. I wanted to spy on them inside the store, perhaps discover their identity.
I stepped into the store and stomped the snow from my boots. My daughter, who was standing near the front counter, didn't waste any time catching my attention. She appeared to be excited over something and pointed in the direction of the two men who had just entered the store. She cupped a hand to her face, kept pointing and whispered, "Mom! Did you see that guy with the blue eyes?" She was trying to appear inconspicuous. I couldn't make it over to her fast enough.
I grabbed her arm and pulled it down. "Yes! I saw him."
"Oh my gosh! His eyes are incredible!" she whispered.
"He talked to me outside," I told her.
Her mouth formed the perfect 'O'. "He talked to you?" The look that crossed her face told me that even she thought she'd seen something unusual.
We looked up in time to see both men walking out of the store, the door shutting behind them. Why were they leaving? They hadn't bought a thing. Now both our mouths formed the perfect 'O'. What were these guys doing?
"Come on," I said and bent down and picked up one of her little boys. "Let's follow them. I want to see where they go." My daughter didn't hesitate. She picked up her other son, and we walked toward the door.
Once outside...we looked in all directions, but the man with the strange blue eyes and his silent companion were gone. A light skiff of snow was falling. The blue sky had disappeared behind grey clouds, yet we could see clearly; no morning mist hindered our view. The truck that was parked at one of the other gas tanks was still there. A heavier set man walked out of the store about then in blue overalls, got in the truck, and drove away. The two men hadn't come in the truck. Of that we were now certain.
So where had they gone? Down the road? We looked up and down that road again. No car or truck was driving away from the store. That bothered us because we knew how fast we had moved to get outside. We figured the men couldn't have gotten five steps from the door, let alone to a vehicle parked near the gas pumps. We had ONLY seen the one truck when we pulled up to the gas station.
I quickly ran around to the back of the building. A blue car was parked by the back door...but certainly no men sat inside preparing to drive off. Both men had simply disappeared...vanished like the fancy assistant in a magic show.
My daughter walked up behind me. "What did he say to you?"
I turned to her, shaking my head, completely baffled. "He told me not to drive to Idaho Falls today," I answered.
"How did he know we were going?" Confusion hung evident in her voice.
I shrugged. "I have no idea!"
My daughter, her two darling sons, and I decided NOT to go to Idaho Falls that morning. I told her everything the blue-eyed man had told me outside the gas station while driving us back to the condo, which wasn't a whole lot. Later we played with the children until it was time for them to take a nap. It was a lazy enjoyable safe day with no mishaps. Scrabble was pulled down from the closet shelf; we were busy thinking up words and trying to outdo one another when it began to snow in earnest. We actually drove through the falling snow to rent an old John Wayne movie at the local video store in town, which we thoroughly enjoyed that afternoon, too. We bought some homemade burgers and fries early that evening at the local sports restaurant in town, the boys and children happily in tow. It was still snowing when we left after dark. The children made a frightful mess on the floor, but it was a great deal of fun and worth the effort. Who wanted to cook? Not me.
Over the years my daughter and I have talked about the blue-eyed man and the very strange warning he and his companion gave us that day many times. Yes, we decided to take his advice, and we've never been sorry for it. But what would have happened had we decided to drive to Idaho Falls anyway? I can't really say.
My daughter and I can only tell the story as it happened...and wonder on long winter nights, when the snow falls heavy, and the crisp cold air gives breath to silent ghosts, if the two men we encountered were angels sent to warn us.
Can such things actually happen?
I choose to believe they do...that real angels are indeed among us.
Hello and Welcome
Hello. Welcome to my new blog...'Between the Jackets'. What's it about? Life. Everything that happens between the jackets of birth and death. The real story. It's about people of all shapes and sizes, different personalities, unusual struggles, and funny situations. This also includes children, animals, crawling, creeping, and swimming creatures.
Let's face it, some days life serves you a big plate of worms. Not very tasty in my opinion. Other days it's a 'picture perfect' stuffed turkey next to a crystal dish filled with cranberry sauce. Yum! And please don't forget there are going to be those 'cheeseburger and fries' days, which essentially boils down to the funny, awkward, and in between moments of day to day living. Because life is pretty much unpredictable, I'm going to do my best at getting it right. Some days I know I won't. The best books and stories ever written come from personal experience and the struggles we face every day. These struggles we eventually overcome and, oftentimes, laugh about. They are the hidden treasures that make up the space 'Between the Jackets' and are well worth remembering.