Tammy Curtis, Publisher
He was staring at me through his owl like glasses as I sat in tears with my head on my truck’s steering wheel. His long gray, stringy hair and unkempt beard dripping with fresh tobacco juice increased my tear flow. I won’t lie, I was terrified.
I don’t know of what, but I was. Visions of every horror movie I ever watched culminated in my mind that second after my eyes met his. I was about 10 miles down a gravel road with no phone signal. I had a flat, and it was just me and him.
My stomach dropped and he politely said, “Can I help you dear?” I wasn’t sure where he even came from. His unkempt appearance, dirty overalls, moonshiners hat and pearl snap western shirt had me questioning what I had done to be put in this position. I was taking what I was told was the “quick route” back to the office after covering a funeral of a World War II veteran.
I quickly stated the obvious- “I have a flat,” and asked if he had a phone. “Not one of those little things, but I have one wired in my house,” he explained. At this very second I realized, it was me, him and God out here in the middle of nowhere, and I was at his mercy.
I trudged up the steep rocky driveway to his house, following him, wearing heels. He emitted the strong and familiar smells of tobacco and wood stove smoke. Quite honestly, I was imagining my quickly impending demise. But, I didn’t have a choice. I said a quick prayer and up the hill I went, ever so slowly, just like the aging man I was following. He seemed to have no reason to hurry. I did, I had a long hot day, I needed to get back to work, back home, to cook supper and a hundred other things racing through my to do list – with a flat tire not being one.
As we entered his modest home, he handed me the phone and offered me a drink. I declined. Still very uneasy, I called for help but it would be quite a while before they would arrive. I tried to make conversation, and commented on a few antique pieces in his home and was told they were very old and had been in his family as well as a sewing machine. It was only then that I wondered “What next?”
He was happy to answer that quickly as I followed his slow steady steps, unsure of where we were going and quite honestly, still on edge. “I want to show you something,” he said smiling. The man was slowly becoming less dangerous to me, but I never put my guard down. I had a bad experience with an old man on an interview once and it taught me to never underestimate the power of an aging man.
The crudely hung aging tarp served as a makeshift door to an old shed. This set my heart racing as we approached, but not in a good way. I remember Wrong Turn and other movies but, again, I was at his mercy. So, I followed him through the storage shed and out the back near a spring fed pond he explained was stocked with catfish he fed regularly.
He slowly walked up to an eight foot tall rose bush spilling over with thousands of red flowers, smiling. “Smell these,” he said as the fragrant bush permeated the air for yards around it. “This is what God does to show you he loves you,” he said. I had to fight back tears for stereotyping this poor old man who was helping me. Still not feeling 100 percent safe or putting my faith where it needed to be, we walked back through the shed, I initially feared, as he seemed to be excited to have my company.
He told me of how his wife had been placed in a nursing home, forcing him to live alone. He showed me her beautiful flowers and explained with a certain sadness at the state of his property since her departure. He showed me several unique rocks he had picked up on his property and the welding projects he has done, including railing around the entire pond and an outdoor table and chairs. He spoke of his faith in God, but not humanity, and how Earth takes care of itself through its trees and plants. He told of how he only attended school through second grade. He seemed more intelligent in common areas than any college scholar.
The man seemed to be nearly sad as my help arrived. He bustled out to an old barn to find a bar to help with the tire removal. While we weren’t able to change the tire and had to come back for the truck, a friend arrived and gave me a ride. I continued to thank the fine man for his hospitality and help before I left.
On the long ride back, I felt shame, for thinking he was dangerous based on his non-traditional and unkempt appearance. It’s often been said God puts you exactly where you need to be. I was forced to slow down, or more accurately…stop, and focus just to smell the roses.
Had it not been for the flat, I can tell you, this is not a person I would have ever approached, talked to or got to know, based solely on his appearance.
Please always stop to smell the roses, regardless of whether they are in a beautiful garden or commingled with weeds. It is in those weeds that we often find real treasures. And a real treasure I found. I may have just been company for a while to him, but to me, he forced me to look at myself in a different light when I see people and to work harder on compassion and kindness to strangers.