Angels, Once in a While
In September 1960, I woke up one morning with six hungry babies and
just 75 cents in my pocket.
Their father was gone.
The boys ranged from three months to seven years; their sister was
two. Their Dad had never been much more than a presence they feared.
Whenever they heard his tires crunch on the gravel driveway they would scramble
to hide under their beds. He did manage to leave 15 dollars a week to buy
groceries. Now that he had decided to leave, there would be no more
beatings, but no food either. If there was a welfare system in effect in
southern Indiana at that time, I certainly knew nothing about it.
I scrubbed the kids until they looked brand new and then put on my best homemade
dress. I loaded them into the rusty old 51 Chevy and drove off to find a
job. The seven of us went to every factory, store and restaurant in our small
town. No luck. The kids stayed, crammed into the car and tried to be quiet
while I tried to convince whomever would listen that I was willing to learn
or do anything. I had to have a job. Still no luck.
The last place we went to, just a few miles out of town, was an old Root
Beer Barrel drive-in that had been converted to a truck stop. It was called
the Big Wheel. An old lady named Granny owned the place and she
peeked out of the window from time to time at all those kids. She needed
someone on the graveyard shift, 11 at night until seven in the morning. She
paid 65 cents an hour and I could start that night.
I raced home and called the teenager down the street that baby-sat
for people. I bargained with her to come and sleep on my sofa for a dollar
a night. She could arrive with her pajamas on and the kids would already
be asleep. This seemed like a good arrangement to her, so we made a
That night when and the little ones and I knelt to say our prayers we all
thanked God for finding Mommy a job. And so I started at the Big Wheel.
When I got home in the mornings I woke the baby-sitter up and sent her home
with one dollar of my tip money-fully half of what I averaged every
As the weeks went by, heating bills added another strain to my meager
wage. The tires on the old Chevy had the consistency of penny balloons and
began to leak. I had to fill them with air on the way to work and again every
morning before I could go home.
One bleak fall morning, I dragged myself to the car to go home and
found four tires in the back seat. New tires!
There was no note, no nothing, just those beautiful brand new tires.
Had angels taken up residence in Indiana? I wondered.
I made a deal with the owner of the local service station. In exchange
for his mounting the new tires, I would clean up his office. I remember
it took me a lot longer to scrub his floor than it did for him to do the
I was now working six nights instead of five and it still wasn't enough.
Christmas was coming and I knew there would be no money for toys for the
kids. I found a can of red paint and started repairing and painting some
Then I hid them in the basement so there would be something for Santa
to deliver on Christmas morning. Clothes were a worry too. I was sewing patches
on top of patches on the boys pants and soon they would be too far gone to
On Christmas Eve the usual customers were drinking coffee in the Big
Wheel. These were the truckers, Les, Frank, and Jim, and a state trooper
named Joe. A few musicians were hanging around after a gig at the Legion
and were dropping nickels in the pinball machine. The regulars all just sat
around and talked through the wee hours of the morning and then left to get
home before the sun came up. When it was time for me to go home at seven
o'clock on Christmas morning I hurried to the car.
I was hoping the kids wouldn't wake up before I managed to get home
and get the presents from the basement and place them under the tree. (We
had cut down a small cedar tree by the side of the road down by the dump.)
It was still dark and I couldn't see much, but there appeared to be
some dark shadows in the car-or was that just a trick of the night? Something
certainly looked different, but it was hard to tell what. When I reached
the car I peered warily into one of the side windows. Then my jaw dropped
in amazement. My old battered Chevy was full-full to the top with boxes
of all shapes and sizes. I quickly opened the driver's side door, scrambled
inside and kneeled in the front facing the back seat.
Reaching back, I pulled off the lid of the top box. Inside was a whole
case of little blue jeans, sizes 2-10! I looked inside another box: It was
full of shirts to go with the jeans. Then I peeked inside some of the other
There were candy and nuts and bananas and bags of groceries. There
was an enormous ham for baking, and canned vegetables and potatoes. There
was pudding and Jell-O and cookies, pie filling and flour. There was a whole
bag of laundry supplies and cleaning items. And there were five toy trucks
and one beautiful little doll. As I drove back through empty streets as the
sun slowly rose on the most amazing Christmas Day of my life, I was sobbing
with gratitude. And I will never forget the joy on the faces of my little
ones that precious morning.Yes, there were angels in Indiana that long-ago
December. And they all hung out at the Big Wheel truck stop.