ANGEL ON MY SHOULDER
© 2006 Wanda L. Harrell
For the last seven years, the time since my divorce, I have lived alone. Going solo has many pluses: not having to clean up after anyone but yourself, less laundry, less cooking, having total control of the remote control, not having to wait for the bathroom, going and coming as you please and time to take leisurely baths instead of showers, to name just a few. However, as it’s said, for every positive there is a negative. For this woman, the nasty negative that reared its ugly head one hot October day was car problems.
It is not an easy task on my budget, but I’ve tried to take care of my ten-year-old car. To make matters worse, it seems an auto mechanic sees a single woman coming from five miles away, so I’m not very trusting, wondering if “single woman” was stamped on my forehead. However, when I looked in the mirror, no words were there.
As anyone with a car knows, the tires are an integral part of the car, and not an inexpensive part of its maintenance. Fully aware of this, I took great care when I had a new set installed shortly after my divorce. I made a point to pay attention to those four circles of black rubber, dutifully rotating and checking the air pressure as recommended. Much to my dismay, I was informed about two and a half years ago that although the tread was in great condition on all four, the rubber had dry rotted. “These tires are unsafe for any highway driving,” the man at the tire store reported.
I was almost in tears, but knew something had to be done, even though I didn’t have cash for such a purchase. So, later that afternoon I went to a local discount store, where I fortunately had a credit card. I chose a middle of the line set of tires, but even at that, my limited budget considered them expensive. When asked if I wanted the road hazard warranty, I at first declined, reasoning I could do without that extra expense, especially since the previous set of tires dry rotted on me. However, a small inner voice seemed to whisper, “Wanda, that little extra money may be money well spent.” So, I agreed to take the hazard policy.
Days became months, and months became years. In tire time, two and a half years quickly passed since that major purchase. A year ago, I moved from Jacksonville, Florida to a small town just across the Georgia border. Although it’s only twenty miles from my former residence in Florida, it’s another world, a world where I know no one. Being a writer, I do appreciate the quiet lifestyle, but again, there is a negative to a positive. When I have a problem of any sort, there is no one locally to whom I can turn.
Last week, on an unseasonably hot day, I had a series of errands to run, one of which was to go by my small town’s version of that same discount store where I’d bought the tires to get a few office supplies. It’s one of those stores where I usually find something I think I just cannot live without, so I stay away from it unless I have reason to be there. That morning, I had paid all my bills, so there was enough money, but not much more, left over for my necessary office supplies and soft drinks, a small purchase that came to only $10.
After paying my bill and checking out, the hot sun beat down on me as I walked out to my car. Instead of placing my purchases in the trunk or the driver’s side back seat, which is normally my routine, I decided to place the packages in the passenger front seat. Just as I started to open the door, I noticed something out of the corner of my eye that sent my mind reeling. I had a flat tire. I leaned over to find a nail in it, not a very big nail, but big enough to puncture the rubber and flatten the tire. My mouth flew open, and my mind went into a spin. The first thing that came to mind was there was no one I could call for help. Then, the thoughts came in rapid succession: this store has a tire center; I could get them to plug the hole; I bought the tires at the store like this in Jacksonville, and finally I realized, I bought the road hazard insurance.
Carefully, very carefully, I drove around back to the tire department, fully expecting the place to be packed, as its sister stores in Jacksonville usually were. Much to my delight, it appeared there were only a couple of cars in the bays and one other in front of me. After scrounging around through the papers in the glove box, I took a deep breath and entered the store. I explained my dilemma to the cashier, so she sent a man out to check the location of the nail and the tread of my pathetic, deflated circle of rubber. He announced the tire could not be plugged due to the position of the nail and that the tread was a nine.
“What does that mean?” I asked.
“That’s good,” he explained.
In want of a more detailed explanation, I asked, “How good?”
His reply was of no consolation to my pocketbook or me. “Good,” he repeated, and then added, “I’ll see if we have any of this particular brand, style and size in stock.”
The sun was still beating down and my head was still spinning as I followed him, very much like a lost puppy, back into the building. While the young man was treasure hunting, I asked the cashier if she knew what a nine meant. She was just as elusive as he had been. Thinking aloud I said, “I don’t have money or enough credit on my card to buy a new one.” She raised her eyebrows a bit, but said nothing.
Thankfully, the young man announced they had one of my tires in stock. I breathed a sigh of relief, but my head spun faster. I knew the tires were 2 ½ years old and such things were prorated. I paced and prayed, prayed and paced the small waiting area. I counted my blessings that I had nothing perishable in my purchase, but my head was hurting and my stomach churned. My mouth was dry. I felt as if I had been thrown into a foreign land, a place where I didn’t know the language and the natives were not exactly helpful.
Forty-five minutes or so passed before I saw the young man hand the invoice to the cashier. Because my head was spinning, I carefully made my way over to the cash register. Another person had replaced the original cashier, so the new employee was not aware of my angst.
After a deep gulp, I sheepishly asked, “What’s the damage?”
She said, “Let’s see, Ms. Harrell.” My heart was pounding as she entered the information on the white paper into the register. “That will be $1.70.”
In shock, I softly said, “I beg your pardon.”
“One dollar and seventy cents,” she said once more.
She smiled when I openly exclaimed for the entire waiting room to hear, “Oh! I have cash for that!”
I dug into my wallet, handing her two one-dollar bills. As she gave me my thirty cents change, I inquired, “Why was this so low?”
She read over the invoice, and said, “Well, there was very little wear on your tires. Did you know you’ve driven only 8,000 miles since you bought these tires?”
“Is that what the nine on the tread meant?” I asked.
Smiling, she answered, “Yes, it is. A ten is new.”
I thanked her, and with my thirty cents safely tucked away, I went out to inspect my new tire. I thanked God over and over and over. As I drove home, I realized there had been an angel on my shoulder the day I made the original purchase and the day of the flat. I was blessed in several ways. The tire went flat in that particular parking lot, not at home or at some other store or restaurant. The flat didn’t occur at night. My purchases did not include any perishables. Against normal routine, I had placed the bags in the front passenger seat. And when I made the original tire purchase, that wee inner voice had encouraged me to buy the road hazard warranty. I was blessed. I was very blessed. Although no one could see anything on my shoulder that day, I knew there was an angel sitting there. Yes, Wanda Harrell had an angel on her shoulder.