A THOUSAND MILES FROM HOME four days ago, I had a flat tire.
I was not up to the challenge, spiritually speaking. So I’m grateful for grace.
I had driven across country to attend the funeral of my Uncle Henry, my mom’s little brother.
My wife, daughter, and I had driven 800 miles to Ohio to pick up Mom and take her 250 miles further, to the funeral in West Virginia. My Ohio sis and her husband came along. We arranged a two-car trip.
It was a beautiful funeral among sad family and friends. Then back to Ohio.
On the trip home, my brother-in-law and I drove my mom’s car, an older model Toyota Camry. My daughter drove our Prius, riding with Mom, my wife, and my sister. A guy’s car and a gal’s car.
About 50 miles into the trip on Saturday evening, the Prius’ rear, passenger-side tire popped it’s air sack. Puncture wound. My daughter drove it skillfully, I am told, to the side of the expressway.
My brother-in-law and I got trapped in traffic and pushed on down the road a short ways. We finally pulled off the road and waited to see if the ladies’ car would inch toward us, since we didn’t realize it had a flat. By the time we started to back up, my daughter arrived running down the side of the road. After she told us they had a flat, she turned and started to run back.
“Want a ride?” I asked.
She jumped in.
By the time we arrived at the Prius, my wife had already unloaded the back of the car, pulled out the jack, and put it in the right position.
Gee whiz. Had we goofed off that long? Or was my wife that fast?
The Prius has a miniature spare tire, designed – as far as I’m concerned – by someone with a miniature brain. Who wouldn’t want a full-sized spare?
My brother-in-law suggested trying on the spare tire that my mom had in her car.
Wouldn’t it have been nice if it had worked.
I put on the miniature, lowered the jack, and watched the spare tire sink to what you might expect of a tire about one-third full. I would never know exactly how empty it was because the tire gauge in my car was battery operated. And the battery was dead.
My wife called AAA, since we have been members of that auto association for a few decades.
No human answered.
My daughter saw on her phone that there was a Walmart Supercenter about seven miles ahead of us.
I avoid Walmart because of the way they treat their employees. By the time we would get finished there, I would feel as though Walmart didn’t treat them badly enough.
Over the phone, a manager told my daughter that the auto service center was closed. It was about 8:30 on Saturday night. But the manager said to come on in and one of the managers would get us the tire we needed.
I thought that odd, but hoped it meant that someone in the store had worked in the auto service center and could help us out.
We drove both cars slowly, with flashers engaged.
Crippled car in front, filled with the ladies. Old, healthy car bringing up the rear.
When we got to the exit, my daughter turned in one direction. My brother-in-law turned in the other.
You had to be there.
We eventually got to Walmart. Gals first. Guys last.
Three souls stayed with the cars in the parking lot, while I walked into the store with my wife and my daughter.
The manager had instructed my daughter to go to the customer service desk. You can imagine the line on a Saturday night.
In time, the one and only human being working behind the customer service desk – an elderly lady who looked ticked as all get out – called an assistant manager.
That manager didn’t know what we were talking about. She called a guy assistant manager. He didn’t know, either.
He got the keys to the auto service center and walked us there. A wave of relief and hope washed over us: my daughter, my wife, and me.
The manager spent about 10 minutes in the service center. Then he rolled out two tires.
“These are your options,” he said.
I picked one and said, “You’ll be able to put it on the car, right?”
“Well, the service center is closed,” he said.
“What the heck?” I said. “You’re going to sell us an empty rubber tire? What can we do with that?”
“What are we going to do?” my daughter asked the manager, pleading for a little creative problem-solving.
He didn’t say anything. So I answered her.
“Let’s get out of this state.”
For my West Virginia relatives, we were not in West Virginia at the time. Though I think I’d have said the same thing anywhere, with the possible exception of Hawaii.
Things looked pretty hopeless after 9 p.m., with two cars full of travel-weary, funeral-drained souls.
I would like to say I quoted scripture, what with me being a Bible-reference book writer and all.
There are actually some psalms that come close to what I said.
We found a nearby gas station with an air pump. It even had a built-in gauge.
I tried to pump the air into the tire, but the air kept blowing out. After half a dozen tries, I discovered that the air pump’s nozzle wasn’t working. It wasn’t attached tightly to the hose.
All it was any good for was making blowing sounds.
Heck, I could do that.
So I did.
We got back on the expressway, driving slowly with the flashers on. We came to another gas station eventually. It had a hose, but no gauge.
I used to work in an auto service station as a kid. I know that if you over-inflate a tire, it can explode and kill you. So I have a healthy respect for air pumps.
I looked again for a tire gauge in the car. When all I found was that battery-dead gauge, I threw it on the ground, stomped it once, and pitched it in the trash can.
My daughter saw that, ran into the gas station, and asked if they had tire gauges for sale.
They did not.
She told the sales lady that all we had was a battery-operated tire gauge that her dad had just stomped on.
Sales lady: “We have batteries.”
Daughter: “It figures.”
I made my best guess at how much air to put in the tire, and we crawled off into the night.
I drove the crippled Prius, with my brother-in-law riding shotgun. The ladies followed behind us.
Two hundred miles at 50 miles an hour.
By about 1 a.m., more than 20 hours after the day had started for some of us at 4:30 a.m., the ladies’ car was going a little crazy inside.
Mom was cold and curled up in a ball. She wrapped her head in a pillow and covered herself with a blanket.
My sister was having hot flashes and claustrophobia. “I gotta get outta here. I can’t take it.”
She stuck her feet out the window.
Within an hour of the Ohio home, we were traveling dark country roads, well off the expressway.
I saw the rabbit big and fat hopping down a bunny trail from my side of the road to the other.
The ladies saw it, too. They were rooting for the bunny.
“Run, bunny, run.”
It cleared the wheels on the driver’s side of the car.
I didn’t see what happened next. I just heard something go bump in the night.
But the ladies saw it.
As though shot from a cannon into the spray of headlights, rabbit guts and fur streaked into the sky from beneath that cursed spare tire.
We arrived home around 1 a.m.
By then the ladies were laughing like they had been drugged.
Something about the expression on my face triggered hysterical laughter from my wife, as we all stepped out of the cars. The other women joined her, howling in the holler beneath the pine trees that had once been part of a Christmas tree farm.
Inside the home rested my nephew and his golden retriever.
The dog raised her head and looked toward the sound that penetrated the walls of a solid house build by the Amish. My nephew, still up and waiting for us, tipped his head and thought, “Coyotes.”
Thank God for family, who know us and love us anyhow.
Thank God for God, who does the same.
P.S. As for that car, two days later, that passed us doing 75 mph on a miniature spare tire mounted on the passenger side rear of the car, it’s just not right.