Read Part 1 here...
As I walked past the jungle gym that was glinting in the hot sun, I ran over possible solutions in my mind. I honestly couldn't find one viable answer to our problem.
However, we could try and get more transmission fluid and drive the truck until it blew up- leaving us stranded God knows where on the side of the road with horses and kids. Or we could sit tight at Two Mule Junction, which consisted of a parking lot, a rest area and a scorching hot playground, and wait for my parents to figure out that they had 10 missed calls from me and that something might be amiss. But they were still two hours away and the day was quickly turning into night, and my cell phone reception was sketchy at best. Or we could quit on the spot and throw a hissy fit, cussing everything and everyone, a potentially break a toe while kicking the truck. This was tempting. Or we could pull up our britches and try to limp our way to Edgemont, South Dakota- a little town with limited services which was 22 miles away, and pray that we found a better answer there.
As I was mulling over these things, I walked by my new friend- I discovered her name was Ruth- who had taken her place by the cooler full of ice water. She stood by an older man in a three-wheeled motorized scooter and he offered me a cool drink. I responded with, "Thanks, but I have plenty of water... you don't happen to have any transmission fluid in there, do you?"
Taken aback, Ruth asked if we were having truck trouble and I briefly explained our situation. She said, "Give me a minute and I'll see what I can do."
I used the facilities and walked back to the truck and trailer, where I found Brock sitting behind the wheel, staring absently at the transmission gauge. The gravity of the situation had taken hold of both of us. There was no denying it. We were screwed.
We looked at each other in silence for a moment, which was broken by Ruth rapping on Brock's window.
He rolled it down and she said, "No one had any transmission fluid but my husband, John, said he would drive to Edgemont to buy some. It's only 22 miles from here."
Brock and I were both stunned. We sat for a moment, mouths agape.
"Your husband would drive all the way to Edgemont for us?" I finally asked.
"Yes! He said he didn't mind. It's only 22 miles."
"Only 22 miles" that seemed impossible to us at the moment. I didn't even know how we had made it to Two Mule Junction. I think my mouth was still hanging open when Brock answered, "Tell him thank you so much but I think we can get there."
Ruth said concretely, "Well, then he'll just follow you in case you have a problem."
I shut my gaping pie hole and exclaimed, "Oh my God, he doesn't have to do that!"
Ruth insisted, "He wants to help! He doesn't mind!"
Two minutes later we were slowly crawling back onto the highway in our roadkill scented truck, pulling four heavy horses at a minimum speed with our flashers blinking methodically. John, apparently the nicest man on the planet, was right behind us in his silver SUV. The knowledge that we had a solution to a potential breakdown was the most comforting thing I have ever experienced. This stranger- this man married to the woman I casually met at a rest stop in the middle of freaking nowhere- just solved our potential no-cell-service-stuck-on-the-side-of-the-road problem. Simply with his presence. I was not only overwhelmed with gratitude, I was floored by his over the top act of good humanity and kindness.
After a slow, careful drive, we made it to the tiny town of Edgemont. We pulled over at the first gas station we saw to search for transmission fluid. The biggest pulls of the trip were still ahead of us and the hills were the hardest on the truck. It would take a miracle to make it to horse camp pulling the trailer. There was no way I was banking on that. We needed to find a solution in Edgemont.
Brock put up the hood and walked into the station, John and I sat in the parking lot and made idol chat as we waited for him. When Brock came out empty handed, I wasn't surprised. The three of us talked a bit more as the truck cooled down in the quickly approaching evening air. Just then, a man who introduced himself as Steve pulled up in a little red truck and asked about our situation. We briefly described our problem and he said, "That transmission is shot. Put anything in there to lubricate it. It's not coming back." Then he said, "The fairground is right next door and my sister is on the committee. We are just cleaning up after the local fair- it was over today- and I'm pretty sure you could keep the horses there for the night."
Then Steve said he would go talk to his sister and John followed him. I stayed with the truck and Brock walked to the next door gas station with the boys to search for more transmission fluid. They came back with power steering fluid and popsicles.
Steve and John returned with the good news that we could use the fairgrounds to accommodate the horses for the night. We thanked Steve as he pulled away and John turned to us and said, "I'll take your wife to her parents at horse camp. Then she can ride back with them in their truck to get the trailer and the horses."
Again, this man's generous nature absolutely floored me.
I said, "Oh my gosh! I can't ask you to do that!"
He said, "You didn't, but I want to help."
Brock and I talked briefly and decided that we would take the trailer to the fairgrounds (it was one block away). We would park there and unload the horses and unhitch the trailer, then Brock would try and drive our truck to camp, where he would get my parent's truck. We thought our truck could probably make the trip without the heavy load. We hoped.
When we explained this plan to John, he said, "Then I will follow him in case he has a problem."
At this point, horse camp was about an hour away by car.
Again, we protested John's kindness but he insisted. I truly felt in that moment that John was GOd's answer to our desperate prayer in the truck. He was our guardian angel. I do not know what would have happened without his presence in the situation. Probably a hell of a lot more tension and an argument, to start. Most likely a broken toe.
The boys and I hung out at the fairgrounds, where there was not only a pen to put the horses, but also hay that needed to be cleaned up and a water tank. I went against all my better judgement when I let my horses eat unfamiliar cow hay and drink from a stock tank during a summer when Vesicular Stomatitis was rampant, but I was so tapped, both mentally and physically, that I said a Hail Mary and let that shit go.
Brock and John headed toward The Black Hills. I made the boys sandwiches from the cooler and they pedalled their bikes around the empty fairgrounds. It was a beautiful, cool summer night. A bit later, we rode the horses bareback in the rodeo arena and watched the sun set. I'm pretty sure the boys just thought we were camping and all was fine. In fact, I truly felt that in a situation that had so many opportunities to be terrifying, we were more than fine. We were lucky.
Soon Brock called at the last area of service to tell me he made it and that he was headed the last three miles to horse camp to get the truck. He said that John was driving back and would be stopping by on his way to check on us.
About an hour later, I had the kids tucked into bed in the trailer and John knocked at the door. I stepped outside to greet this kind stranger and tried to express my gratitude for his help.
He shook it off.
I told him how we held hands and prayed for safety and a solution. I told him how we don't usually roll like that. I informed him that I thought that He was listening; I thought that God sent John as our guardian angel.
He said he just wanted to help out a family in need- especially one with young kids.
I thanked him again and asked if he had kids. He told me that he did. Three of them lived all the way in Missouri. He didn't see them much. He seemed regretful.
We talked about his new family- his wife Ruth and her father, who was in the motorized scooter. He was a minister to the bikers. THE minister to the bikers. He talked about how their view of the world changed him.
We chatted a bit about more- life and being a parent and he said, "I've made some real bad choices in my life that have hurt a lot of people. I'm trying to do my best to make up for that now."
His words hit me in the gut. I wiped a tear from my eye and replied, "I'm pretty sure we could all say that. And I think you earned some major points today."
I thanked him again, then John went on his way from our life, as quickly and quietly as he entered it.
I found myself wondering about his story and his people. I pondered how much a chance meeting with a stranger can so profoundly affect someone. I felt my heart lifted as I thought about all of the people that came to our assistance: Ruth, John, Steve and the people of the Edgemont fairgrounds. I could not imagine our potentially horrible and dangerous situation turning out any better. Our kids were safe, secure and fed. Our horses were safe, secure and fed. I had beer on ice and a place to sleep for the night. Brock was on his way to get us a truck that could pull our trailer to our destination- which was vacation at a camp full of people that we know and love. Lots of familiar help was there, waiting for us in the Black Hills. A magical place that I love like no other.
The sound of a diesel truck pulled me out of my thoughts and into reality. I looked through the window and saw my husband climb out and make his way to our lone horse trailer parked at an empty fairground in the middle of the rolling plains of the west. A place where we both rediscovered our faith in God and humanity. A place where we realized that sometimes the broken parts of life can bring the biggest gifts. A place where we once again found gratitude and the blessing of each other. A good place with good people and cold beer on ice.