last summer, weeks before our house was lifted up 5 feet than set back down on a new foundation, me and my two boys headed south toward olympia. the idea was to be out of the way during some of the more dirty aspects of construction prep- a plan that didn't entirely hold firm- but a good plan in theory.
we were all packed into our minivan- that small nick on my ego- which had recently begun to act as if it was in the midst of being abducted, a small fact i chose to ignore before setting off on my road trip down interstate five. as we neared fort lewis, the van began it's strange behavior again. if it were human it would have been the toddler, pre-nap who hasn't eaten anything for 5 hours, is covered in sticky juice and has a bad rash. the van just didn't have any will to drive forward. all of the lights on the dash started to blink and the motor surged in a last attempt to get us off the freeway as seren moaned in the backseat and i said supportive things to the windstar like, "come on- just get us off the freeway!"
we cruised to a stop at the only thing on this exit- a small gas station on the right near a small open park. to the left was the military base. at first i thought that the van just needed to rest a bit. that always makes me feel better. but no, after 10 minutes running about in the grass- me and the kids, not the van- the engine didn't even seem to acknowledge the presence of the key. i went into the gas station where the young guy behind the counter produced the wimpiest pair of jumper cables ever seen- but ours had mysteriously disappeared from the van. the young guy and the guy parked next to me worked together to try to get the van going- but no luck. as the kid wound up the cables a SUV pulled up and a man popped his head out the window to ask "need any help?" the kid perked up and assured me that this guy could fix it. his confidence was inspiring. the man parked nearby and came to look at the engine. while i explained the symptoms of the ford's meltdown he nodded and told me it sounded like the alternator.
"i can fix that for you- it's easy," he said with a slight hispanic accent. he was in his forties and dressed in a collage of camouflage and green. his hair was short and he had several tattoos peeking out on his arms- one seemed to say "mary." i assumed he was in the military and catholic. he seemed genuine and trustworthy- but i really just wanted to get to olympia before the sun went down, which was sinking pretty fast. he gave me a jump- got the van going and gave me a slip of paper with his phone number on it, telling me to call him if i needed anything. i planned on calling him the next day- he said he'd come to olympia to fix it for me.
as i put the van in reverse and heading to the on-ramp, i looked down at the paper. it read: jesus 564-2837. i laughed. of course, i did. i probably even said to myself "thanks, jesus!" as i headed onto the freeway intent on making it the last few miles to dinner and bed. well, we didn't get too far. the van began bucking and such almost as soon as we got on the freeway. the next exit landed us in the parking lot of a golf club. i gave jesus a call. his wife answered the phone. her name was mary.
at this point in the story- i feel the need to explain, briefly, about the only other time i have been stranded in a broken-down vehicle. it was about 4 am on highway 101 in the middle of the olympic national forest. i had my baby seren- who was about 10 months old at the time and our old dog, kimik. there was no cell reception, even if i had one on me- and it was still dark out. a lone vehicle approached me- a run down pick up with two brown men in it. they were migrant workers who made cedar shingles at the local mill. i was nervous, hesitant- until i saw that one of the men had a necklace on. i show my ignorance by simply describing it as "one of those catholic necklaces." it was on a basic black chord and had the photo of a saint on it. when i saw this i trusted them immediately- despite that i, myself, am not a christain. they drove me back to my mom's place- out of their way- and refused any money i offered until i convinced them to buy something nice for their wives or their mothers.
so when jesus and mary showed up at the golf club to help- i trusted them. he got the van running again and then came up with the plan to have me follow them to the nearest auto repair store where an alternator could be bought. the van wasn't so keen on this idea. it died on I-5 right on the expansive nisqually delta. this spot of the freeway has always called to me. it is so completely peaceful with it's marshy land and soft hills. well, i was getting a chance to really take it in as jesus pulled apart my engine and i loaded the kids into their bronco.
we sped off as mary called local stores to find the part needed. she found one, just north of us, in a shop that was closing very soon. jesus hopped off of the interstate as tacoma traffic loomed ahead and started to maneuver the back roads. the very deserted back roads. if you know me, you might be surprised to hear that i can be very morbid at times. i mostly blame my mom for this- well, why not? she did let me watch sweeney todd when i was about 8- and my over active imagination. so, as jesus and mary ushered me and my two boys, then 7 and not yet 1, through the wooded roads west of fort lewis i did get a little nervous. and like most nervous people, i started to chat with them. i asked about their jobs, their kids, where they moved here from, how they liked the weather, anything i could think. and i also told them all about me.
i made sure to mention my husband being native- because being white i somehow thought this would earn me points and they wouldn't abduct me and my kids. again, i blame TV and my mom for my situational paranoia- if that is even a term. i realize that could be somehow racist- but i'm being honest here. just as it is probably racist to say that i trust hispanic/latino/chicano people that i do not know much more than any other race of people. no doubt, this is because i grew up in southern california and was a minority as a white person. i vividly remember the startling moment i looked in the mirror as a young girl and realized i was white with bright blonde hair, pale skin and blue eyes. and i somehow felt the need to communicate some part of this to jesus and mary. i worried that maybe i just looked like another white mom in a white van with her two half-white kids. well, i guess that is exactly what i was- but i wanted them to know that i wasn't one of those white moms in a white van...whatever that means.
as the road stretched out and i realized i had no idea where i was part of my brain was coming up with escape plans- i've seen a lot of A Team episodes- that's really my only excuse. but the bigger part of me was getting to know these nice folks. jesus had been out of work for a while- he was a mechanic. mary worked at a retirement center for the very well-to-to military folk. she had one daughter who was a teenager. they had moved here from texas. i got them to laugh once or twice. i decided they weren't driving us to a drop off point in the dense forest.
finally we arrived at the store and the rickety test-machine confirmed that my alternator was dead. jesus beamed a bit at me. he wanted me to know that he wasn't lying about it being bunk. after a long, pregnant wait the man produced the new alternator. on the way back to the van we stopped at an ATM so i could get out $200 to pay jesus and mary.
as we pulled up to the van the sun was sinking- it was after 9 pm now. mary held the flashlight so he could install the new alternator- which he did very quickly. as we waited in the van- a state trooper pulled up to see if we needed anything. no doubt, three vehicles pulled over in the nisqually river basin looked like a party. he asked if the other car was with us- nodding to the sedan with the person puking out the passenger door. no. they weren't with us.
soon enough, the van roared back to life. how many times can you thank someone for helping you like this? probably not enough. i imagined that as they drove behind me- to make sure the van was working- that jesus felt good about using his knowledge to help someone out and to earn some money. i bet mary was proud of him. or maybe it wasn't that big of a deal to them. maybe when you are named after a man credited with unconditional love for all folks- maybe part of you takes up that cause too. maybe it was just another day of them looking around and seeing who needed something that they could offer.
but for me, being saved by jesus was a big deal.