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I took June's water bowl and food dish to the car. With everything else packed and loaded, I was all set to head out on my trip. It was already after dark, but I figured I would get in five or six hours of driving before stopping for the night on my way to the East Coast.
I went back to the house to say goodbye to my wife. "Do you have enough cash with you?" I told her I had a little. "How much is a little?"
"I don't know, probably about ten bucks." I've become so used to swiping a card that sometimes I don't think about taking or needing cash.
"You need to take some cash with you. One of these days, you're going to get stuck someplace that doesn't take cards." Melissa reached into her purse and pulled out two, twenty-dollar bills and offered them to me. "Here, this is all I have right now, but I want you to take it."
"I don't need that," I insisted, "I have enough cash on me, and I don't want to take all your money" But she insisted more.
"I can get more money tomorrow when I go to work. Just take this with you." Maybe she's right; I do travel to some pretty remote places. I didn't resist when she tucked the two bills into my top shirt pocket, "I'll see you in a few days; you need to get going." She gave me a hug and a kiss and walked me toward the door, pausing at the coffee table to hand me my travel mug. "Here, don't forget your coffee, and pull over if you get tired."
"Yeah, yeah, yeah." June followed me outside. I opened the car door, and she jumped in, across the driver's seat to the front passenger side. I sat down, put my seat belt on, and started the motor. I took the two twenties from my shirt pocket, and put them in the cup holder, took a sip of coffee, and set my mug on top of them. "She worries too much." I said while giving June a rub on the head, "You ready, girl?" She sat in her seat, staring out the windshield. She was ready. I turned on the headlights and pulled out of the driveway, giving two toots on the horn.
I wanted to get past Madison before stopping for the night, thus avoiding the metro traffic in the morning. We made it and drove on until we found a place to rest for the night. June and I got out to take a little walk before retiring. A lot of dairy cows reside in rural Wisconsin. The scent in the cool night air had June's curiosity - we couldn't have been too far from the farm. I told June, "I saw a bumper sticker once that read; Wisconsin – Come Smell Our Dairy Air." We shared a good laugh about that before we went to bed.
Jack called to discuss what time I would arrive at his house and if I would be staying in the area. I told him I would be heading home right after our meeting. "We have snow that popped up in the forecast for tonight. You'll have about two hours of driving on winding roads through the Appalachian Mountains to get up to my place, and some of them are pretty steep." He warned, "I want to make sure you get back out of the mountains before the snow hits." I stopped to check the weather and calculate my en-route time, and determined I would be okay.
After our meeting, June and I wasted no time getting on the road. We had less than an hour of daylight and two hours before the snow was expected. We were only twenty minutes down the mountainside when I told June, "It appears the snow is two hours early."
The snow was pretty light at first, but the snowflakes soon became big and wet. About an hour into the drive, the snow was falling heavily, and it was now dark. It was one of those snowstorms when turning the headlights on high beam made me feel like I was commandeering the Starship Enterprise. Traveling at warp speed through the galaxy, stars, meteors, and space debris streaked by outside.
We had to slow way down, especially for the hairpin turns in the road. It took two hours to travel this road, getting up to Jack's house and over three hours to get back down. Not far out of the mountains, the snow stopped as suddenly as it began. We drove through Virginia and deep into West Virginia before stopping for the night.
Early Sunday morning, I stopped in the small town of Bridgeport, West Virginia, for fuel and got online to look for churches in the area. I had just missed the eight-thirty mass at All Saints Church by ten minutes, and the next mass wasn't until eleven. I didn't want to wait that long, plus two hours down the road, I would undoubtedly find a church to go to in Charleston, a much larger city. I stopped in Elkview, about twenty minutes out of the city, to grab a sandwich and a cup of coffee.
Online, I found a mass at eleven - in thirty-five minutes. Checking the route, I was twenty-five minutes away. Perfect! I ran to the car and entered the address into my GPS, then ate my sandwich and drank my coffee on the way.
It was a beautiful, sunny morning in early February when I arrived at Christ the King Church in a residential neighborhood in Dunbar, West Virginia. I was eight minutes early and found a parking spot right out front, across the street. Things were going my way.
I walked into the church and took a look around. It wasn't a large church, but it was beautiful with natural brick walls. Large wooden beams and planks made up the ceiling. Pipes for the organ stood overhead behind the altar. Parishioners were flowing in, filling the rows of dark brown fabric chairs lining both sides of the altar. The atmosphere was warm and welcoming. I decided I had better find a seat; I prefer to sit closer to the front of the church.
I found an open seat at the end of the second row. On the seat top next to it, a lady had set her purse. Not wanting to impose by taking a chair she may have been holding for someone joining her, I leaned forward and spoke softly, "Does this seat belong to anybody?"
She shot me a big smile. "Honey, you are in the house of the Lord. That seat don't belong to anybody but God Himself, and He's just been waiting for you to get here." I smiled and thanked her. As I was sitting down, she asked, "Have you got enough room, honey?" Lifting her bag and sliding it under her chair, she insisted, "You sit with us and make yourself comfortable."
The organist started playing; the congregation stood and began singing the opening song; the harmony was beautiful. I looked around for the choir but didn't see one. To the right of the altar, behind the organ, there was a piano with music stands and several microphone booms – but no choir, just one cantor.
The songs that day were all traditional hymns. During the second song, it occurred to me, some of the parishioners were adding harmony on their own. It was wonderfully uplifting and added a lot to the mass.
The priest called the children to come forward for a blessing before the children's homily, based on the same gospel reading the adults use but presented on their level of understanding. The lady next to me was encouraging a young boy to go join the other kids. The little boy seemed shy. His older sister stepped up and said, "Come on, I'll go with you," and the two went off together with the other children. It was beautiful the way she offered to go with her little brother. The entire service was very spiritually rewarding for me. I was glad I found this church.
After mass, I struck up a conversation with the lady next to me. I introduced myself and thanked her once again for the seat. She shook my hand, "Well, I'm Francine Peters, but I consider you a friend, so you can call me Fran or Frannie."
I told Fran how nice it was for her daughter, whom I guessed to be thirteen or so, to go with her little brother to the children's homily. "Sometimes when they hit those teenage years, they don't want to go to the 'little kids' stuff anymore, but she jumped right up to support him."
Fran smiled and continued, "They're not brother and sister; they're cousins. This is my 11-year-old granddaughter Charnesta and…"
I interrupted her, "Granddaughter?" I was surprised, "I thought these were your kids."
"Oh heavens, no." She laughed, "She's actually my step-granddaughter, but I fully consider her one of my own." She ruffled the little boy's hair. "This young man is my great-grandson, Kristopher – that's with a K; he belongs to my older granddaughter, Alicia, but she's not here today."
My comments about Charnesta helping Kristopher led us to a conversation on faith and doing for others. Fran shared that she had left the church for a while, "God has a plan for each of us. I was gone for several years, and He led me right back here, and here is where I'm going to stay."
I could tell Fran was a good lady, a caring soul who does a lot to help other folks. I wanted to do something nice for her. I started to reach into my pocket to give her some money. I would say, "Take your grandkids out to eat - my treat." Before I embarrassed myself, I quickly remembered that I only had about ten bucks with me when I left home. I put all of that in the collection basket when it went by. I could send something in the mail, but some people find it intrusive asking for their address the first time you meet. Suddenly, I remembered, "Wait here, Fran, I have something in my car I want to give you."
I rushed out to my car, parked across the seat, and picked up my coffee mug. Underneath it were two smashed, wrinkled up twenty-dollar bills that Melissa insisted I take. I smoothed them out as best I could, then neatly folded them in my hand and went back into the church.
I took Fran's hand, placed the bills in her palm, and gently closed her fingers over it so that she couldn't see what I was giving her. Still holding her hand, I said, "I want you to know; I make no judgments about you. If you can use this, that's great. If not, would you find someone to give it to?"
Fran opened her hand, unfolded the two bills, and paused. "Well, I've listened to your stories, and now I have one to tell you about how the good Lord works." There was a sparkle in her eye, and I couldn't tell if she was getting a little teary. "Several days ago, I came across a young mom sitting on the curb on the edge of the street by the bus stop. She was crying, so I asked her what was the matter and how could I help?
"The young lady said her husband, who was quite abusive, had left her the day before. She'd looked in her purse that morning to find he took all the money she had. She needed to buy groceries for her kids but had no money. Now, mind you, she didn't ask me for money either.
"Well, I opened my purse and pulled out all the money I had and gave it to her. I told her, 'It's not much, but I hope it will help.' She thanked me and accepted my gift.
"I got home and thought, 'Now Fran, what were you thinking?' The money I gave her was all I had until I get my check next week. I was out of milk and things and needed to go to the store myself. Then here on Sunday, I meet a new friend at church, who I've never met before, and you just give me some money when I didn't even ask.
"But the most amazing thing is when I reached in my purse and gave her that money – I gave her two twenty-dollar bills; that was all the money I had. Now here you are today giving me two twenty-dollar bills. No one will ever convince me that the Lord isn't watching what goes on around here – and He has a hand in it, too." Fran gave me a big hug.
Fran's story warmed my heart, topping off a perfect Sunday morning. I didn't want to share with her the coincidence in that the two twenties I gave her were all the cash I had left until I got home. I only had them because my wife gave me the last two twenties she had when I was walking out the door. I was afraid if I shared this, Fran would have refused my gift, and besides, I still had a credit card with me. We said our farewells, and I headed for my car.
I gave June a rub on the head, "I told your mom I didn't need those two twenties, but it turns out I really did."
June looked straight out the windshield; she was ready to go. "Are we going to get lunch soon?"