Guardian Angel III

At the end of my first semester at California State University, I traveled back to Minnesota for the summer. I had hoped to find either a summer job or a volunteer opportunity, but by the time I arrived, car troubles had drained my financial resources, and I knew I needed a job.

Instead, however, I learned Mom had worked on my other option: she had volunteered me to drive and translate for a Bolivian lay minister as he met with sugar beet farm workers who traveled from Texas to Minnesota each summer. The minister, Ruben, spoke no English and didn’t know how to drive. He had assumed he would be able to walk from farm to farm. The distances between farms in the US astonished him, as did the fact that, while the farm workers all spoke Spanish, almost none of the farmers or those working in businesses did.

Much as I thought I should find a job, I agreed instead to honor Mom’s commitment because of her conviction that something good would come from it. I also knew that if I really needed more money, all I had to do was ask her. I didn’t want to, but I could.

The churches who arranged for Ruben’s mission told me they couldn’t pay me for the work; they would reimburse me for my gas.

I spent the next six weeks filling the tank each morning, then driving the 60 miles to the farm where Ruben stayed. Each day from that point I drove more than a hundred miles on gravel county roads in four counties, Cass and Traill in North Dakota and Clay and Norman in Minnesota, so that Ruben could meet with the families of the farm workers. My tank was nearly empty each evening when I returned home.

One afternoon, Ruben pointed out a group of workers in a field. He asked me to pull over so he could talk with them. Usually he only met with the families of those who worked in the fields, in the cabins the farmers provided for them. I should have told him we shouldn’t stop them from working. But trying to figure out how to say that in Spanish was difficult. So I gave in. We were on a gravel county road with what looked like a wide, grassy shoulder. I pulled over and immediately felt the car begin to roll. Within seconds, the passenger door rested against a sign warning of a curve in the road ahead. The only sign for miles. Let me repeat that: the – only – sign – for – miles on that road.

Ruben, in the passenger seat, couldn’t get out, and the car tilted enough to make it difficult for me to open my door.

The workers saw what happened, ran from the field to the road, and pulled and pushed my car back onto the road. Shaken by what had almost happened, I silently thanked my guardian angel and told Ruben I needed to go home early that day. He understood.

 

Guardian Angel II

angel by maphler, on Flickr
angel” (CC BY 2.0) by maphler

 

The summer following my first semester at California State University at San Francisco proved to be a real test for my guardian angel. I had no classes in the summer so I set off for Minnesota, to spend the summer with family and relax before returning in the fall. I hoped to find either a summer job to earn money or a volunteer opportunity to get experience working with Spanish-speaking families who moved from Texas to Minnesota each summer to work in the labor-intensive sugar beet fields.

I had very few possessions, nearly all of which fit inside the trunk and on the back and the passenger seats of my VW Beetle. My bicycle fit on a rack in the back, over the engine. I took off on the nearly 2,000-mile drive and ran into a little trouble on my first stop to fill my tank, at the intersection of I-80 and I-505 at Vacaville. Once the gas tank was full, I tried to start the engine. The car didn’t fire up. I had experienced this before and knew what usually worked. I removed the bike from the rack and opened the engine cover.

Once the gas tank was full, I tried to start the engine. The car didn’t fire up. I had experienced this before and knew what usually worked. I removed the bike from the rack and opened the engine cover.

I was about to remove the distributor cap and poke around the points with a screwdriver when a young man wearing a cap with the station’s logo walked towards me. When he got close enough to see what I was doing, instead of offering to help, he said, “Well, it looks like you know what you are doing,” turned around, and headed back to the station.

After poking the points as a friend had shown me in the past, I replaced the distributor cap, closed the engine cover, and then tried starting the car. This time, it fired up as expected. After repositioning the bike rack and wrapping the bike tightly, I took off again.

The drive from San Francisco to my parents’ home took three-and-a-half days. I made it to western North Dakota before I had to play around with the points again. Then, smooth sailing–until I got to the Highway 75 off-ramp from Interstate 94, only two miles from my parents’ home. When I reached the stop sign at the top of the ramp, the car stalled and wouldn’t move one more inch. I engaged the emergency brake, removed the bike, pumped up its tires, and rode three blocks to a gas station on Highway 75 where I arranged to have my car towed to my parents’ home.

AAA paid for the towing. I had $240 in my pocket. I knew I would need $60 for gas and motel rooms to get back for the next semester. The estimate for repairing the engine was $180. I did the math: I needed a job. No volunteering for me. At least I had a no-cost roof over my head while I waited for the car to get fixed.

But this was just my guardian angel’s first job that summer.

Guardian Angel I

guardian angel by Prayitno / Thank you for (11 millions +) views, on Flickr
Great were the results of my mother’s prayers. She always got what she prayed for, or so we kids thought. When I complained that prayers didn’t work, Mom insisted that, while God answers all prayers, his answers aren’t always what we want. And then she would remind me of the nights she sat on my bed while I said my prayers, to remind me to ask for God’s help to stop biting my fingernails. And I remembered.

 

Years later, I stopped praying myself, but I know Mom never did. And I believed her prayers directed a guardian angel for each of her children.

For example, when my brother returned from his four-year Navy stint, Mom prayed he would meet a woman like a newcomer at her church. A year or two later, while my parents were away, my sister hosted a party at the house, and my brother dropped in and met that church newcomer, a friend of one of my sister’s classmates. My brother and that newcomer have been married for more than 30 years and have three sons and a granddaughter.

As for me, at 21 I married, graduated from college, and left my parents’ home. Even at that distance, I felt a protecting spirit. My husband and I arrived in Berkeley, California, with enough money for one night in a motel room and the cleaning deposit and first month’s rent for a tiny apartment we found the next day. Had we not found that apartment on that day, or had the landlord required first and last month’s rent, we would have been out on the streets. That night, I thanked my guardian angel.

Good fortune has limits, however. As we entered our third year in Berkeley, my husband decided the marriage wasn’t working. He moved out; I kept the apartment. He took our tent, a sleeping bag, and a bicycle; I kept the borrowed bed and the car I was still making payments on. I had never felt so alone.

To keep in touch with the few people I knew, I wanted to keep the same phone number. The phone company wanted me to set up a new account with a new number. Business practices at that time required I get my husband’s permission to keep “his” number (since another business practice was to issue all accounts in the husband’s name). Businesses presumed an angry wife would run up large bills on her husband’s accounts before a divorce.

I didn’t know where my almost-ex-husband lived and was close to giving up when, suddenly one day, he stopped by the apartment. He signed the form, and I kept the phone number. Such a little detail, but oh, so important for the rest of this story.

By this time, I had decided to go to graduate school and had been accepted at California State University at San Francisco for the following January. I didn’t know how I would pay for it. I would have to quit my job in Berkeley and assumed I would have to find a part-time job in San Francisco. Instead of worrying, I decided to wait to see how things turned out.

Then, one early November morning, I overslept. I was already late, and my hand was on the doorknob when the phone rang. I almost ignored it. But these were the days before answering machines, and my curiosity over who was calling prevailed. I answered the call. On the other end, the producer of a San Francisco television program, Pippa’s Prize Movie, explained my phone number had been selected at random from the phone book (remember those?), and she asked if I was willing to take part in their contest. She mentioned a consolation prize, complimentary dinner for two at a San Francisco restaurant. My mind began running through the names of people l knew, searching for someone I could invite to join me for dinner, as the producer explained she would call me back in five minutes for the contest itself.

During those five minutes, I recalled having read a piece by my favorite columnist, Herb Caen, where he mentioned this contest. I found the newspaper, reread the column, and located what I thought was a clue before the phone rang again. Pippa played a song, barely audible through the receiver of the phone (I didn’t own a TV). When she asked me to name the tune, I said, “I understand it is the theme from the movie, ‘They Call Me Mr. Tibbs.’”

“You’re right!” Pippa said.

“I am?” I asked.

All those events, set up by my guardian angel, and I didn’t know I had the answer.

The next day, Herb Caen mentioned me in his column; Pippa’s Prize Movie became Pippa’s Morning Movie, altering the format by eliminating the prize; and I had five minutes of fame as I received, on air, a check from Channel 7 for $2,219. More than enough for my first semester of graduate school in 1973.

Thank you, guardian angel!