Have you ever experienced a year in which the sheer volume of stress threatened to pull you under?
Much like a strong current can carry an unsuspecting swimmer out to sea, a wave of sorrow and struggle can bury you in a tide of exhaustion. Bits of your life float just out of reach – the flotsam and jetsam of daily living. Sometimes it’s too much for a person to bear.
For a 64-year-old Illinois woman named Eunice, 1989 was such a year.
That year her beloved only sister, Arline, lost her husband to massive cardiac arrest. Single until she was sixty, Arline had cared uncomplainingly for their ailing parents in their home in St. Paul, Minnesota, until first one, then the other passed away.
Eunice was ecstatic when Arline met and married a widower, Owen Anderson, whom she’d known for years. The Andersons shared an unusually happy marriage only to have it tragically cut short when Owen’s heart suddenly gave out after only six years together.
Arline was now totally alone, and her sister grieved.
In August of that same year, Eunice’s youngest grandchild, Jordan, fell seriously ill. Never a well child, Jordan’s parents finally located a pediatrician near their new home on Cape Cod who refused to accept the diagnoses of previous medical personnel.
Admitted first to a regional facility and then to Boston Children’s Hospital, two-year-old Jordan was too weak to endure the surgery needed to save his life. After weeks of intravenous treatment, Jordan underwent eight hours of complex microsurgery with his parents at his side.
But who would care for the young siblings at home during Jordan’s weeks of hospitalization? Eunice did, solo, her farmer-husband unable to leave their midwestern fields at harvest-time.
The toddler survived, thanks be to God, and eventually his exhausted grandmother returned home.
Not wanting Arline to be alone over the holidays, Eunice and her husband, Truman, persuaded Arly to accompany them back to Cape Cod to spend Christmas with their daughter’s family. Arline, who never flew, took a Greyhound bus into downtown Chicago where her sister and brother-in-law met her for the 1,100-mile drive to Massachusetts.
When the threesome departed just prior to New Year’s, a blizzard had buried much of the country in brutal weather. By the time they retraced their thousand-mile journey back to Chicago, Truman’s car, always meticulously maintained, was clogged with icy snow. Just blocks from the Greyhound station where Arly was to catch the only bus heading north that day to St. Paul, the Buick Bonneville broke down.
Knowing he couldn’t abandon the car, which was blocking traffic, Truman prayed for help to come along, encouraging his wife and sister-in-law to walk the last few blocks to the bus station.
“If you hurry, you can make it!”
Despite the mounds of dirty slush piled along the city streets, it was sunny but cold, a short and surely safe walk for two women together.
Lugging suitcases, Eunice and Arline half-walked, half-ran the few blocks north to the Greyhound station, their breath blowing steam into the frigid air. They made it just as the final boarding call was given for the bus departing for Minnesota.
Yet as Arly hugged her sister goodbye, Eunice asked, “Arly, where is Owen? And where are the children?”
Suitcase in hand, Arly paused on the steps, puzzled.
“Eunice, you know that my husband died. And we just left your children on Cape Cod.”
The driver, impatient, urged Arline to board. Confused and unsure what to do, Arly fell into a seat, calling out, “Eunice, go back and find Truman!” But the name brought no recognition.
As the bus pulled out of the station, Arly caught a glimpse of her sister wandering slowly out of the station, a dazed look on her face. Rather than turning the way they had come, Eunice hesitated, then began to walk north.
Away from the car. Away from the only person who knew her in all of Chicago.
In relating the story later, Arline said that she cried the entire way to St. Paul. There were no cell phones in 1989, no way for her to reach anyone to check on her sister. When she reached home late that evening, she immediately phoned Eunice and Truman’s home just two hours south of Chicago.
At around that same moment, a young man in a shiny white pickup pulled up next to the disabled Buick.
“Need a lift, sir?” he asked Truman.
Truman thanked him for stopping, explaining that he needed to stay with the car as his wife would be returning momentarily.
“I’ll take you to her,” came the offer.
Truman demurred again. When Eunice returned, he would walk to a payphone to call for a towing service.
The young man, Truman reported later, was insistent.
“Sir, you should come with me. Leave the car. We need to find your wife.”
Truman, startled at the other driver’s urgency, locked his door and climbed into the truck’s cab. The driver immediately pulled into traffic, waving off a map.
Truman made conversation. “You’ve been to the Greyhound station before, then?”
“No sir, but I know right where it is.”
“Nice truck you have here. How do you keep it so clean? These Chicago streets are a mess.”
The young man glanced at Truman and smiled. “Actually, you’re the first passenger to ever ride in it.”
Moments later they pulled up next to the bus station. Truman recognized the back of his wife’s coat as she moved slowly along a crowded sidewalk nearly a block away. He sprinted to catch up with her and then, puzzled at her lack of recognition, led her gently back to where the pickup driver waited.
“Sir, we need to get your wife to a hospital,” the young man blurted out. “I’ll take care of getting your car towed, but we’re going to St. Luke’s. It’s the closest facility that can help her.”
As the older couple climbed out of the truck, Truman hurried his wife to the emergency entrance and then reached into his pocket to fumble for a tip – anything to thank this good Samaritan.
But he was nowhere to be found.
“Beats me,” Truman said years later, “how that guy could have pulled away so fast I didn’t even see him go.
“And I still can’t get over that truck,” he’d say when telling the story to his children. “Not a speck of dirt on it inside or out. A shiny white truck on those filthy streets!”
“Dad, do you think it could have been an angel?”
Truman would pause, scratch his head.
“Naw, he was so normal. So ordinary I can’t even tell you what he looked like. But that spanking clean truck, now, I just can’t figure that out…”
Some stories come to you so far removed that you’d be forgiven for being a bit skeptical. But when Truman and Eunice Wallem happen to be your very own parents?
Well now, you’ll be forgiven for believing that it was God himself who sent someone to them.
An angel, or simply a caring young man in his brand-new truck?
“Don’t forget to show hospitality to strangers, for some who have done this have entertained angels without realizing it!” Hebrews 13:2 NLT
You be the judge.
- Maggie Wallem Rowe, 2022
Maggie's new hardcover gift book from Tyndale House Publishers releases APRIL 19 and should be available anywhere books are sold.
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