When I was 19, my husband John and I went to Florida so he could start working with his estranged father. We were down there for six months before we realized it was not a good idea. His father would not pay him all the money he owed him, and he even sold our car when we were on vacation. We knew we had to go back home to New York.
We tried finding jobs to save up enough money to get home, but we were only just getting by. We stayed in a pay by the week motel, and had to eat pb&j, Roman Noodles, and if we were really lucky we had hamburgers. We just couldn’t seem to save enough money for two bus tickets. We tried calling family and friends to help us, but nothing panned out.
“Were hitching home. It’s the only way were getting back to New York, Lisa. I’m leaving with or without you.” John knew I was scared, and threatening to leave me in Florida on my own was the only way he was going to get me to go.
“Maybe I will get my thumb painted bright green so we can be easily noticed,” I chuckled. I was not looking forward to this experience, and was trying to take the edge off my sheer terror. “It’s too hot. Maybe we should have started later in the day. My hair is already so drenched with sweat that it is sticking to my neck, and my shirt is clinging to my body,” I complained.
It was late August and excruciatingly hot. We were carrying backpacks, which added warmth to the already unbearable heat of a Florida summer. It felt like it was burning a hole right through me. I could feel the sweat everywhere on my body, and I was tired. John led the way, and I was twenty feet back walking slowly. I kept my head down and did not raise my thumb once. I was afraid that what happened in every slasher movie I had ever watched was going to happen to me! As we walked, I prayed and prayed and prayed like I had never prayed before. I was promising God everything under the sun if he would just get me home alive.
We were walking for about an hour when a car pulled up with an older couple that gave us a ride to the interstate. When we got out, we walked for only a few minutes when a station wagon pulled up and offered us a ride to the next exit, which was only two miles away.
“Thanks, but we might miss an opportunity that can take us further,” John explained.
We talked to the couple for a few minutes when below the underpass, about a mile ahead, we saw an 18 wheeler off on the side of the road.
“That wasn’t there before,” John said.
The driver was trying to re-tie monstrous wooden beams that had fallen off the back of his truck. John had the idea that if we helped him, maybe we could get a ride for a while. We were talking with each other and not paying too much attention to the truck that offered hope ahead. By the time we got up to the truck, all the beams were loaded.
The driver was of normal build and had a beard and mustache that was whitened with age. He asked us where we were going, and we told him New York. He informed us that he was heading to Jacksonville and we were welcome to come along. Climbing up into the truck, I felt easy for the first time since we had started out.
Our driver introduced himself as Daniel Sheppard and asked, “Do you believe in Guardian Angels?”
Both my husband and I agreed that to some extent, we did. That seemed to satisfy his question for a while. We started talking about the usual things people who first meet do, the weather, family, how long we had been married and so forth. Then, Daniel started talking about the Bible and some of the stories from it.
We arrived at the Jacksonville truck stop. Inside were all sorts of maps, clothing, finger foods, and things of that nature. What struck me as odd was that there were showers that had coin slots on the outside like a soda machine. Daniel informed us that you pay for a shower, and offered to do so for us. My husband and I were grateful to get the sticky salty sweat off our bodies. The shower stalls were small but surprisingly clean.
“I just called my boss and he told me I am heading to Pennsylvania to pick up a load, you’re more than welcome to join me” Daniel informed us while we were eating the dinner that he bought for us. The grease of a truck stop burger never tasted so good.
In the truck, there was a bed behind the front seats for the drivers to sleep. Daniel offered it to us, and refused the answer of no we were trying to force upon him. The little cubby of a room was surprisingly larger than it looked and very comfortable. We were so tired from stress, heat, and walking with 25 pounds on our backs that it was only moments before we were both fast asleep.
The next morning, I woke up to the sound of gears being shifted. I thought “good we are already on our way.” I nudged John and we crawled out of our make shift bedroom to greet our host. He had coffee for us, and we gratefully gulped our morning juice. I asked him where we were, hoping to hear we had made it into Georgia already. I about made a coffee Picasso on the windshield when he told me we were about 50 miles from the border of Pennsylvania. John and I looked at each other wondering what this guy must be on.
“He must be on speed,” I whispered to John.
To my surprise, we crossed the border within the hour. Daniel had to pick up a load and told us we would get breakfast afterwards.
“How in the world did we get here so fast?” I asked John thinking he might have an answer.
“I don’t know, Lisa. Your guess is as good as mine.”
We went to sleep at about 10 o’clock, and here it is 8 in the morning. Neither of us had driven up the East coast before, and we were not sure how long it takes to get from Jacksonville to Hanover. We blew it off, thinking Daniel must just be one of those truckers you see driving down the interstate at night. We figured he would pick up his load and would go to sleep after breakfast.
When Daniel returned, he informed us he was going to Syracuse to drop off this load. “Syracuse? I can’t believe what I’m hearing, we are going to be home today!”
I was so happy and relieved that I started crying, “Thank you so much Daniel, I was so worried when I first started this journey, and here you are taking me within an hour from my house.”
What he said next, I will never forget. “We knew you were scared, we are always here when you need us.” I looked at him puzzled, wondering who this “we” he kept referring to was. I thought maybe he was talking about my husband, and thought nothing more of it.
We stopped and ate breakfast in another truck stop, and Daniel started talking about Guardian Angles again. This time both John and I engaged, and we had a good time just sitting there eating greasy eggs, greasy home fries, and drinking greasy coffee while talking about what we thought on the subject. Daniel paid for breakfast and we were on our way home.
When we arrived in Syracuse, Daniel dropped us off by the thruway entrance. He gave us ten dollars, and told us “this should get you the rest of the way home.”
I wanted to write Daniel and repay him in some way for what he just did for us. Reluctantly, he told me I could get his address off the CDL that was hanging from the mirror in the truck. I did, and proceeded to give him a hug. I was going to miss this guy. I was almost sad that our journey together had ended.
John and I figured we would find a pay phone and call one of our family members to come get us. We started putting everything back onto our packs, and a small blue car pulled up and a guy asked, “Where are you two headed?”
“Were heading to Rome.”
“We’re going to Utica for my sisters wedding, need a lift?”
They said the only problem was that they were almost out of gas and were unsure if they would make it so they were going to a Western Union to have someone wire them money to get there. We had the ten dollars that Daniel gave us, and in 1992, ten dollars would about fill this car up. We jumped in and we gave them directions to Rome. In an hour, we were being dropped off at the Rome bus station. John gave them directions to get to Utica, and we just sat and waited for the bus that would take us to my mother’s house.
When we were on the bus, we realized that it only took a day and a half to get from Sarasota Florida to Rome New York. This feat wouldn’t have seemed so odd, except there was only one driver. This one driver also unload two loads and loaded two back onto the bed of his 18 wheeler. This one driver also stopped to shower and eat twice. John and I were so tired and relieved, that we forget about it for the time, as we saw my mother’s house up ahead.
A week went by, and I decided to send a thank you letter to Daniel. I took the address that I still had in my pack, and wrote it on the envelope. I expressed to him my gratitude for everything he did for John and me, and hoped that one day if we were to travel to Arizona that we could meet up with him. I was happy dropping this letter in the mail, and started to relive the timeline of the trip. I also started wondering about Daniel’s talk of God and Guardian Angels.
A week went by and I received my letter to Daniel back in the mail. On the back of the envelope, someone had written that their Grandfather had died over ten years ago. I once again started thinking about the talks we had on God, and I sat on the couch with that letter in my hand in disbelief until John got home that evening.
“What’s the matter Lisa?”
I told John about the returned letter, and how I started wondering just who Daniel Sheppard really was.
“Who knows,” John said chuckling, “maybe he was our Guardian Angel.”
“Maybe he was just that, John. We’re home safe and it’s all thanks to one man.”
The thirty-six hours in that truck are ones I will never forget. Every time I start to wonder about the meaning of life, or whether or not we are alone, I remember Daniel Sheppard and question neither anymore.