Years ago, before everyone had a cell phone, I ran out of gas on the Throgs Neck Bridge, a massive span of steel suspended over the Long Island Sound, 12 miles from New York City. As my car lost all its power, the steering wheel locked and we rolled to a stop in the right lane, just after the curve. From this position, oncoming motorists couldn’t see us until they were 50 ft. away. Approaching at 60 mph, they swerved around us, brakes screeching. Several shouted rude remarks, shaking their fists.
I could make excuses: It was Thanksgiving and we were running late. I had a terrible cold. My two-year-old daughter had been screaming on and off for two hours, upsetting her four-year-old brother and distracting me. Exhausted, overwhelmed, I’d missed the red fuel light on my dashboard. Still, it hardly mattered why we were stuck—I had to do something to protect my children, and my car, from being hit from behind.
My son was fast asleep. Pulling my wailing daughter from her car seat, I set her on my hip and walked behind the car. There, I began flapping my free arm like a broken windmill, warning approaching motorists away.
In the high November winds, with a guardrail only up to my thigh, Katie and I could easily have been blown right off the bridge!
God help us! I shuddered, holding her tighter.
Instantly, a small red fire truck pulled behind my car, lights flashing. At the same exact moment, a Boar’s Head truck pulled in front of us. Provisions, read the sign, painted on its side. We were saved!
“I almost hit you,” said the driver of the fire truck. ”I was looking down changing the radio stations and wham! There you were! Walking down the road with this baby in your arms. What a picture!”
As he went to search for the bridge’s emergency phone, the other driver approached more quietly. “Ran out of gas?” he asked, and sensing my embarrassment, he added, “No shame in that. Happened to me once.”
“Really?” I asked. I felt instantly better, calmer and a good deal less ridiculous.He told me to wait in the car for the tow truck, which, he explained, would push my car off the bridge. “Get off at the Clearview and pull over first chance you get. I’ll drive ahead and get you some gas.”
“Bless you, thank you,” I said.
The tow driver came, barking instructions. he would push my car from behind. “Put it in neutral, stay off the brakes,” and BANG! we were off. He pushed, I steered, doing some of the deep breathing I’d been saving for emergencies, and we made our bumpy, jerky way down the exit ramp. I pulled into a grassy embankment at the side of the highway and stopped to wait for the Boar’s Head driver to deliver the gas.
But “You idiot!” the tow truck driver came running from behind. “You had an angel meeting you, you didn’t listen”
“What? I don’t…”
“That guy, he was meeting you at the Clearview, the Clearview,” he shouted, face red. “This is the Cross Island!” Then, storming back to his truck, he left us there.
I cried for a while. Then, I got out of the car. I put a blanket around Max’s shoulders and wrapped Katie inside my jacket. We began to walk. I could see some stores that I could see behind the embankment. If I can find a deli, I thought, I can get something warm for the children to eat. We could go to the bathroom. Maybe they’ll let me use the phone.
We’d gone only a few yards when, “Mommy,” Max asked. “Who’s that man by our car?” I turned and… there he was–the driver of the Boar’s Head truck, already putting gas in our tank.
When I tell this story, I usually leave out the part where he lifted one end of my car and shook it, to make the gas run into the lines. It seems so outlandish – even I’m unsure sometimes if that really happened. I skip ahead to the part when my car was turned on, the engine humming, the heat warming my children’s hands and I turned to thank our rescuer.
“Let me pay you for the gas,” I said, holding up a twenty, all the money I had. “Let me buy you dinner.”
He smiled. And I noticed, for the first time, his beautiful eyes. “You keep it, Ma’am,” he said. “You go home and live a good life and raise these kids and that will be thanks enough for me.”
“But,” I stuttered. “I want to do something to thank you… at least, tell me your boss’s name, I’ll send a letter.”
“My boss knows how sweet I am,” he said, smiling. “Go on home.”
As he walked away, I scribbled down the name of his company and the phone number painted on the side of his truck. Then, I put my car into gear and drove my children to their grandparents’ house. All the way there, I composed the letter in my head. I imagined the gift I’d send: An American Express gift certificate, tickets to a show…
But a few days later, when I called the number that I’d carefully copied into my journal, it was out of service. When I phoned the Boar’s Head company they told me there was no distributor in the town that had been painted on the side of that truck, no driver on record with its name.
Back then, I didn’t know how to explain it. But I do now: He was an incarnated angel, sent, in a truck marked Provisions, to rescue two children and a frazzled mom from the top of a bridge, and to remind us: You are never alone.
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This is the first of many stories in my book, Sea of Miracles.
I’ve posted it here for Karen Caterson’s Support Stories series. I hope that you’ll visit her site, especially if this time of year is challenging for you. She’s put together a series of posts and stories to bring you into the circle of support and encouragement – and to remind you that you’re not alone.
– I wish you many blessings – and a new year filled with light and grace, delivered by angels!