Blog on 3: Angels Among Us

If anything embarrassing (or just dumb) has ever happened to you, do you just figure everyone knows about it?

I was talking to a friend just this week and mentioned an incident that I was certain he had heard about that involved, well, just me. He hadn’t heard it at all and enjoyed hearing the details of it. So, why not share it here so that everyone can have a good time at my expense.

Back in the fall, we were wrapping up a baseball fundraiser where we cooked Boston Butts to sell. We had prepped, grilled, smoked, bagged, and distributed over 200 of them and were happy to be winding down. In fact, the last rotation of baseball boys had just finished cleaning up around the grills that Saturday afternoon. We had three grills left to return to folks that had either rented them to us or generously allowed us to use them. The plan was to leave one grill at the park that I would come back and get on the way back through town and Coach Joyner and I would each take the other two back where they belong.

I was about to take off with a grill that had to be returned a few miles south of town. I had already pulled grills back and forth for a few days and, while a couple of them had something a little less than secure in their hitch or frame, this one had nothing I was concerned about.

Right before leaving, I decided to do all the final pickup and cleanup. I put two coolers that had the remaining cooked meat in the back of my truck. (In truth, it was my son Gabe’s truck that I had commandeered for the day.) I also threw in scoops, extension cords, extra bags, leftover charcoal, and other empty coolers. I had also washed out grills and they were all ready to be delivered.

Taking one more look around before leaving, I noticed two small logs that had been used in one of the grills to smoke the meat laying on the pavement. They had not been in a grill for probably 4-5 hours at this point and were barely warm when I picked them up. I started to put them in the grill to transport, but I had just cleaned it out and I always want to return something as good or better than when I borrowed it. So instead, I dropped the logs just between the cooler of cooked meat and the tailgate in the back of the pickup truck and took off to deliver the grill.

It had been a long 24 hours of work and I was very ready to have the day over with and head home to shower off some of the smoky grill smell that was embedded in my skin. I called Jaclyn on the way just to check in and let her know what I had left to take care of. We were wrapping up the conversation when I felt a jolt from behind. I looked in the rear view mirror to see that the grill tongue had come off the hitch on the truck and that the grill was now being pulled only by safety chains. In fact, it was about to be pulled in for a second smack to the bumper when I noticed a little bigger problem.

It’s not every day that you see flames coming from the back of your pickup truck. And, if you have seen that before for whatever reason, I would stand to wager that it wasn’t while you were driving down the road. Without a plan in place for such an event, I was left to make a few decisions on the fly.

The first move was to end my phone call with, “Hey, I’ll call you back. The truck is on fire.” Click. Leaving Jaclyn to draw her own conclusions on the other end.

Since this happened going around a curve at 60 mph, my second move was to ease off to the shoulder of the road (with maneuvering skills to avoid a third physical encounter with the trailer tongue) in a place that was a little less than curvy.

I put the truck in park, jumped out and dropped the tailgate to find that the two, once innocent-looking logs had re-ignited and were in full “chestnuts roasting on an open fire” mode. My next spur-of-the-moment move was to grab them and toss them out of the back of the truck on on the shoulder of the road. When your bare hands grab fire, they make their own decisions, though, and they weren’t concerned with accuracy. Instead of landing on the pavement, they rolled into the dry, dead grass giving me a new problem – trying to avoid a brush fire on the side of a major highway.

I grabbed the logs again and made sure they stayed on the asphalt, then used my tennis shoes to stomp out the fire in the grass. I’m certain that any video crew setting up in that area would have notched their day as time well spent watching my adventure so far.

Grass fire out. Logs on the asphalt. Whew!

My attention returned back to the truck to see that the hot meat in the cooler combined with the bonfire started by the logs had given me one more little issue to address. The entire cooler was engulfed in flames, still sitting in the back of the pickup. Again, adrenaline and a borderline panic moved me to action without thought. I grabbed the handles of the rolling cooler and lifted it out of the truck and set it down on the pavement. I looked back to see a mangled, melted bed liner in my son’s truck, but was now down to only two problems: a flaming rolling cooler of wasting meat and the tongue of a grill/trailer needing to be reattached.

At any given time in my own vehicle, you can find no less than 3-4 (and usually more like 6-8) plastic bottles with varying levels of water in them. But, since I was in junior’s truck, the only water to be found was the half-bottle that I had been working on when I left the park only minutes before. I sprinkled that over the cooler and didn’t make an impression at all. I even returned to the side of the truck and personally refilled the bottle as discreetly as possible as cars and trucks zoomed by – but that didn’t work either.

I had come to a point where I was resolved to watch it burn out before making another move.

In my peripheral vision I noticed something different than normal vehicles whizzing by. A small, mid-sized, older model pickup truck with a camper over the back was easing in behind the grill pulling onto the shoulder. The man that got out looked to be in his mid-30s, a scruffy beard down to his mid-throat area, khaki cargo shorts, Crocs, and he was nursing about half of a lighted cigarette in his mouth.

“Hey man, you good?” he asked.

I filled him in quickly on my predicament and told him I didn’t have any water or an extinguisher, so I was stuck with this burning cooler in front of us.

“Hang on!” and he quickly went to the back of his truck, lifted the camper window and dropped the tailgate. He was digging around for what I assumed might be a fire extinguisher for a little over a minute. I stood there stuck between curiosity and wondering if I should offer to help him do something when he crawled back out with an armload of what looked like rags.

He bounced directly back to the cooler and, without saying anything, started laying what turned out to be wet t-shirts over the cooler. After 4-5 shirts produced a sizzling sound following back wafting smoke, he tossed the remaining couple of shirts back in the truck and said, “that should do it, buddy.”

He explained that the camper covering the bed of his pickup had a small leak in the corner. The pile of shirts were put in there to soak up the leak and keep water from going all over the back of his truck. While I thanked him several times, he only hung around a few more seconds and he disappeared without the two of us even exchanging names.

I have often thought about how this guy probably never gave our encounter another thought. Other than being out a few moldy, wet t-shirts and wasting what amounted to five minutes of his journey, it didn’t impact him like it did me.

I was able to load up what was left of a now smoldering cooler, re-attach the trailer (with a little help from Chuck Stewart and Mike Sellers who had also come to the rescue after my t-shirt angel had left), and finish the task at hand.

Later that week, I still thought about how kind this random stranger had been and why I didn’t look for those opportunities like he had done.

Only a couple of weeks before Kane passed away, I stopped on my way traveling down I-40 to Nashville and offered to help a couple and their young 2-year old who were stranded on the side of the interstate. I ended up driving the mom and daughter to the nearest exit and convenience store to call and wait for help. In fact, I strapped the girl down in Kane’s car seat that was in my back seat. Total of fifteen minutes of my life likely meant much more to that young family than it did to me.

My entertaining moment(s) of continuous embarrassment and frustration for me really was a staunch reminder of God’s mercy and grace.

And the angel among us that stopped to help me did what we all should look to do.

Be kind.

Be helpful.

Share what you have.

And do it all without any thought of what you might get, if anything, in return.

Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and Love your neighbor as yourself. – Luke 10:27

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