October 2, the feast of the Guardian Angels! Do you ever think about the fact that we are told in scripture that we each have an angel? Do you ever think about your own angel?
Here is a true story of a family who experienced the assistances of some angels. It will be part of a book I am working on, currently titled, TWO DAYS AND ONE SUITCASE. I will give you a bit of background on the book to put this angel story into context.
In 1945, the Hannan Family was heading to Colorado. Lawrence Hannan was a lawyer and had just learned that for the past three years, 120,000 Japanese-Americans had been incarcerated in different places in the United States. As War War II was ending, those imprisoned would soon be released. Hannan was taking up a position in one of these camps to help with the nightmare of legal problems the incarceration had caused these American citizens–loss of property, jobs, possessions, etc. The whole Hannan family was going with him. In Camp Amache, they would soon throw themselves into the miserable situation there, finding a myriad of ways to help make life a little better. The whole story is about their many experiences in Colorado and later in California in a place called Tule Lake Segregation Center. It is a fascinating piece of American history, seen through the eyes of twelve-year-old Helen, the youngest of the three Hannan children. Helen is now in her eighties and she and I have written this book together.
But for today, for the guardian angels, here is just a slice of this story, right at the beginning of the book, when the Hannan family is driving from Florida to Colorado in an 1937 Packard, pulling a small trailer with wooden wheels….
I was getting tired as we kept on rolling along. It was dark now and we were in a swampy area of Louisiana.
The three of us kids were dosing when suddenly there was a sound I couldn’t identify. Larry, Mari and I all sat upright. It had come from the back of the car, and now there was a feeling as if something was off balance. Dad slowed down as quickly as he could.
“It’s the trailer,” Mari predicted.
As soon as the car stopped, we got out.
The taillights of the car were not strong enough for us to see what had happened to the trailer. Mom found a flashlight in the car and held it as Dad and Larry squatted to examine it. A wheel had broken right off down to the axel.
I looked at that forlorn little trailer, piled with our things. It was as if the car had been too powerful for it and the trailer had decided now was as good as any to submit its resignation.
We couldn’t just leave it there, and besides, there was no more room in the trunk of the car for the stuff in the trailer. But it was obvious the little trailer wasn’t going anywhere without help. For a minute, we all looked around, as if hoping we might see some place to go for help, yet we all knew there wasn’t any.
We were completely alone in pitch dark, not a gleam of light except our car lights. No streetlights, no warm homey glow from houses, not even the glare from oncoming cars. It had been hours since we had passed through any town, and no haze of lights up ahead promised one soon.
We really didn’t know where we were. We knew we would eventually come to Baton Rouge, but we really weren’t sure even where that was.
I began having the uneasy feeling we were in the jungle again.
“Do you think there are snakes here but we can’t see them?” I asked.
“Naw,” Larry said cheerfully. “Probably just crocodiles.”
“I think crocodiles are only in Florida,” Mari said. “But there could be alligators.”
Mom said, “If you two think your jokes are making me feel better, you are wrong!”
Quickly Dad said, “In any case, let’s go back to the car to figure out what we are going to do.”
It did not take long before there was a plan. Since the only city we knew of was Baton Rouge, we would head in that direction. Our new driver, Mari, was going to drive there, unless we found a town with a tow truck before that. Mom, Larry and I were going to go with her. Dad would stay with the trailer as it contained most of our clothing, bedding, etc., until we returned with help.
He unhitched the broken trailer from the car. We had a kerosene lantern with us, which would serve as a signal for us when we returned as well as a little light for Dad until we did. I hoped it would scare off any animals.
He lit it and cheerfully waved us off. With Mari at the wheel, we left. I looked back and watched the light from the lantern get smaller and smaller.
In the car, we prayed. It was fairly late and a Saturday night, not ideal for finding someone to help. However, God seemed to send us to a person named Mr. Gonzales. He had a truck, a big trailer and a willing heart. He followed us as we made our way back to Dad.
It had taken us hours to get to a city and then find our helper. Now the road back seemed even longer and darker. It was a winding road but Mari carefully found our way back. I watched for the lantern light and was excited and relieved when I saw a tiny spark up ahead that grew bigger as we got closer.
Finally we saw Dad, huddled over the lantern. Not a single vehicle had passed him in all the long time he had been out here.
I bet he had been praying too!
Mr. Gonzales and Dad got to work right away. They pushed the broken trailer onto the big trailer hitched to Mr. Gonzales’ truck.
It was decided that Dad would ride with Mr. Gonzales and the rest of us would follow in the car. The truck started off and Mari again got behind the steering wheel of the car. She had to turn it around.
What we didn’t know and couldn’t see was that there was no shoulder at all on either side. How Mr. Gonzales turned around, we’ll never know because we weren’t concerned about that when he had been turning. But now Mari had to turn and she did not know this: if you strayed an inch you went over into a very deep ditch. Well, Mari did, and we did, and there we sat with our headlights pointing up into the trees!
For some brief seconds, we sat in stunned silence. Then Mom said, “Everyone alright?” We were all unhurt and now we began to evaluate the situation.
Dad and Mr. Gonzales were far enough ahead that they didn’t realize what had happened to us. They assumed we were following them but out of sight because of the many turns in the road. We didn’t know when they would realize this and come back.
But that was not really the problem right now!
Our car had become wedged between some trees. Who knows how far we would have slid down—and into what—had the trees not stopped us. So that was good. But the angle our car and the great weight of it kept us from opening the doors to escape. So there we sat.
We knew that few, if any, cars would pass by. Even if there were some traffic, drivers would most likely not even see us in this darkness.
We were miles from anywhere, so even if we could get out of the car, it was pointless to risk walking along an unknown road in the dark, with no lights, not even much of a moon, to guide us.
I have mentioned that our family has always been big on prayer, but I think this time we outdid ourselves.
And then help showed up. I will tell you what happened, and you see if you can figure out how this came about. I have mulled over this and the only answer I can reach is that this was a miracle. Angels maybe. Probably.
The silence and darkness of that scary night was suddenly broken by the arrival of an enormous logging truck.
How it even fitted on that narrow road, I will never know. From it climbed two men. They were the tallest people I had ever seen. They walked over to where we had gone off the road as if they already knew we were there. They stood there, studying the situation.
We watched, wildly hopeful now for the first time in a couple of hours. And a little puzzled that these men neither spoke to us or to each other.
They went back to their truck and returned with a huge log chain. This they were able to wrap around the front of our big car, which was pretty much sticking straight up.
Inside the car, we marveled at their quick work and skill and wondered what was next.
Those silent helpers got back into their truck and slowly, slowly, pulled us until our car was back on the road!
We were bumped and jostled, but what relief we felt!
Mom was now able to reach her purse and was looking for money to pay them. They got out of their truck and took the chain off of our car, and put it back onto their truck. They began to climb into their truck.
They still had not spoken to us or connected with any of us with a smile or a wave. But they had saved us!
Mom jumped out of our car and ran to them, a $10 bill in her hand. It was all she had with her. They accepted it, but still did not speak to her as she thanked them. The truck started up and off they went around the next curve.
Mari started our car, none the worse for its time in the trees. Mom joined us and we all began talking at once.
“The road is so narrow!” Larry exclaimed. “I don’t know how such a huge truck could even use this road!
“Why was a logging truck out on this road so late on a Saturday night?” I wondered.
“I don’t know how they could possibly turn enough to pull us out!” Mari said. “I barely began turning when we were going down into the ditch!”
“And why didn’t they speak to each other or us?” Mom pondered.
Our wonder about our helpers intensified as we continued our journey. Where were they now?
Mari had started to drive almost immediately after our helpers had left, going around the same curve they had just driven. But there was no sign of that big truck.
All the way through the swamp, around tight curves on a very narrow road in pitch darkness, they would have had to drive that gigantic truck very slowly. And our car had a powerful engine. We should have easily caught up. But we never did.
“They must have turned off somewhere,” Larry said.
But we had all been watching for turnoffs they might have taken. There weren’t any.
“It just doesn’t make any sense,” Mari said.
“Angels?” I said.
“Well, there doesn’t seem to be any other explanation,” Mom said.