|The Escort in its earlier days in our driveway on Hollybrooke Lane|
I heard the crunch and saw the side view mirror to my left bend and break as I backed out of the garage. I couldn't believe it. I'd moved that little Ford Escort out of that same spot time and again and had never come close to hitting anything. I turned off the engine and went into the house to tell Larry what I'd done and that he'd better come and take a look. He followed me outside, walked over to the driver's side and surveyed the damage. Then in typical Larry fashion he assured me that it wasn't all that bad. I stared at the poor dangling mirror and wondered if he really knew what he was saying. "Well, it didn't fall off," he said consolingly. "And besides, I almost did the same thing a few days ago." Well, almost isn't quite the same as actually doing it. "I think we can piece it back together," he continued and then proceeded to push the broken parts together. "I think it'll be fine to get you to the store and back." I looked it over skeptically. A few minutes later I left in the white minivan.
It's not as if the car was in pristine condition. It's been in our family for ten years and during that time it's had a few altercations, most of which, I admit, involved me. The first incident was an encounter with a small tree. That time I lost the side-view mirror on the passenger's side. It was shortly thereafter replaced. Another time I rear ended a truck that was pulling out of Walmart. Pete the Pickup didn't appear to have a scratch on him, but my poor little Escort's hood was scrunched up something terrible. That required a visit to the junkyard for a part and a new paint job.
Not too long ago I was sitting at the traffic light waiting to turn onto Main Street when I saw it. A car of the exact same make and color as mine was preparing to turn left off of Main onto the side street where I sat. I watched closely as it turned in my direction and noticed the driver peering at my vehicle just as closely, our eyes locking for a moment as she passed. I turned to get one more glimpse before the light turned green. Her car was in much better shape than mine, everything appearing to be still intact. She'd obviously never rear ended a tree. After that last little incident in Alabama, Larry had figured it was hardly worth the money to get the bumper replaced. It was, after all, just an Escort, not exactly the most expensive car on the road. But seeing that tidy little vehicle that morning, I felt a twinge of regret. And nostalgia.
This story actually begins eleven summers ago. The large moving van had come once again, stopping and unloading at the house two doors down on Hollybrooke Lane. We were accustomed to seeing the big trucks, the place was rented out every year to the families of officers who had come to study at Maxwell Air Force Base in Montgomery. Unfortunately, with the new neighbors continually changing and never settling in for long, we barely got to know them. Oh sure, there was the occasional wave and the short, casual conversations as we passed by during our evening walks, but before we knew it, another year had passed and we'd see the big May Flower parked at the curb once again.
We had seen the latest occupants coming and going a few times, a mom and dad and two young boys. We assumed that we might get an occasional nod or hello but probably not much more than that. But we would all soon discover that this move was going to involve much more than just a year of officers' training for the Major. He was about to face the greatest crisis of his life, and his family's being in that house was no mistake, directed by the hand of God Himself.
I was in the kitchen putting the final touches on dinner when Larry walked in somberly and told me that he had just come from talking with the new neighbor. He had noticed him pacing at the end of his driveway, visibly distraught, and had walked over to see if he could help. "He just found out his wife has breast cancer. He's not sure what to do or what this all means. He's scared."
Those in the military are accustomed to living away from family, but there are times when that separation is felt more acutely. This was the case for both of them, but especially for Keyoe whose family lived in Japan, so far away. The cancer was aggressive and treatment was to begin immediately. Dwayne's course of study would be terribly demanding as it was, and to have the responsibility of a family while his wife was undergoing the chemo and radiation was daunting.
So we became their family. Sometimes it meant watching the boys, other times they came for dinner. Women from my Community Bible Study group and others from the church filled up their freezer with meals. But most importantly, they knew someone was close by who cared for them, and that also meant Larry being available to offer an ear to a young husband and dad who needed a friend and confidante during that time of uncertainty.
Though Keyoe was a Christian before she moved next door, that year in Alabama was a time of growing into a deeper faith. A friend of mine who had lived in Japan for a time just happened to have two copies of the Jesus Film in Japanese and passed one on to her. Keyoe was quite fluent in English, but watching that movie in the language of her heart touched her profoundly.
Keyoe's health seemed to be improving as the days drew closer for their departure. We were not looking forward to their leaving, we had grown to love this family as if they were our own. But we knew that in the same way God had led them to us, He was still revealing His care for them through Dwayne's next assignment. They were being sent to Japan.
We would eventually receive the news that Keyoe's illness had come back with a vengeance. An emergency trip from Japan to a clinic in Hawaii did not reap the hoped results, there was nothing more that could be done. How grateful we were that God had placed her near her mother during those last months of her valiant fight. One morning Larry felt impressed to call Duane in Japan. He dialed the number. A voice he didn't recognize picked up, it was Dwayne's brother. He was there for Keyoe's funeral.
So what does all of this have to do with that little Escort? Not too long before that big moving van had once again made its way down Hollybrooke Lane to load up his family's things, Duane gave us a call. We were needing a second car and he said he'd like to sell us the one he had driven back and forth to the base, the little silver Escort. It didn't have all that many miles and the price he quoted was unbelievably low. "Why, Duane?" I remember asking. "You could get more than you're asking from us." He simply stated, "I want you to be the ones to have it."
Duane is remarried now. A few Christmases back we received mail from an address we didn't recognize. I opened it to find a picture and short note enclosed inside the card. I shouted out loud when I realized who I was seeing. It was Duane with not only his two boys, but with a new wife and two more children. I studied his face. He was good.
I think he would be pleased to know that we still have the Escort, even as battered as it might be. It's the car that we lend out to those who don't have wheels but need to get to the doctor's or pick up some groceries. And it shows. The interior's not the best either with all the traffic it's put up with over the years. Recently we thought about selling it and putting the money towards a pickup, something Larry's always wanted. But Bruce our mechanic looked a bit quizzically at him when he mentioned it. "This is still a good car," he told him. "It's got a good motor and there's no rust. I'd think long and hard before you decide to sell it." He was right. So we'll hang onto it until it refuses to go another mile. Besides, it has a story to tell. One that we don't ever want to forget.
|Duane with his two boys|
|Our last outing with Duane and Keyoe at Peach Park in Clanton, Alabama|