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Strange Angels in Monroe County

October 5, 2011 - Betsy Bethel
You never know when you're going to need an angel. And you never know what form that angel is going to take.

On the first of October, I made an excursion to rural Monroe County, having been summoned to play the bagpipes for the funeral of a retired Woodsfield police officer and Iraq War veteran. It was a rainy, windy and chilly Saturday. My angel adventure began as I neared my destination in Beallsville and my car lost power. It just quit running. I coasted to the grassy berm and put on the flashers.

I checked my phone. No bars. "Emergency Calls Only" the screen said. OK, I thought, it's an emergency. I dialed 911. Nothing.

Good thing I left early for the funeral — a miracle in itself (those who know me well can attest to that!).

I was on the side of a hill. I looked up to my left and noted several houses. Higher up, they must have cell service, I thought. I had no umbrella or rain jacket, but I got out, locked the car (if you're a Monroe Countian, you're probably snickering) and started running up the street. I veered into the first driveway and ran through the yard and up the steps to the front porch of that house. Huffing and puffing, I rang the doorbell and checked my phone. Two bars! I tried several times to reach the Woodsfield assistant police chief who called me and instead kept getting my daughter's kindergarten teacher — "Oh, I'm so sorry!" I explained, out of breath, "I just keep calling any 740 number that I can find in my recent calls list!" She assured me it was OK. I didn't even have time to be embarrassed.

Meanwhile, an elderly woman in curlers had answered the door while I was on the phone. Between gasps for air and apologies to Miss Linda, I spluttered to the woman ... car broke down ... funeral ... Beallsville ... bagpipes ... need to get there! She insisted I come out of the cold. Realizing there was nothing she could do, she took a seat in a wing-back and watched the spectacle. As I stood on the thick plastic runner in the hallway and punched buttons frantically on my phone, I cast apologetic looks at her. When I finally gave up finding the policeman's number, I asked if I could use her phone book. I didn't even know the name of the funeral home, but of course she did, it was Harper's, and she helped me look it up. "Tell them you're at Grace Rucker's," she said. "They know me." I did as I was told. The funeral director sent someone after me.

I thought I'd better go get my pipes, since I'd left them in my car. I thanked Mrs. Rucker profusely. "You look so nice," she said, standing in her doorway and noting my sodden woolen kilt and soaked-through shirt. She tried to give me a jacket or umbrella. A lovely lady, Mrs. Rucker. An angel in hair curlers.

I ran down to my car and hopped inside. It was raining harder now. I figured whomever was coming for me would see my car. I was wrong. Up ahead, I saw a green van slow down, pull into Mrs. Rucker's drive, pull back out and head back up the hill. "No!" I yelled. I honked the horn. "No, no, don't go!!" I couldn't believe it. My car must have been invisible to him because of a hump in the road. Hoping against hope, I squinted one eye at my phone. Still no bars.

What else could I do? I grabbed my pipe case and resolutely started trudging up the road. Mrs. Rucker had said the funeral home wasn't far. When I got 50 yards or so up the hill, I pulled out my phone and called Harper's. "There's a guy looking for you in a green van!" the director said, a bit nonplussed. I explained what happened. "Well, he'll find you," he assured me. I kept walking. Several cars zoomed passed going into and out of town. No green van.

But when I reached the top of the hill, a big shiny black pickup slowed down as it approached. The driver rolled down the passenger side window. He was on his phone. We made eye contact. Then he barked at me: "Get IN here!" I hesitated about a half-second — Ax murderer? Oh well, I'm wet, cold and need a ride! Once again, I did what I was told.

I felt ridiculous as the driver kept talking loudly about I-don't-know-what. I quickly took some mental notes. He was clean cut, about my age and wearing a Beallsville football T-shirt. I could probably pick him out of a lineup, if I survived. When he hung up, he turned to me and said matter-of-factly, "So, where you headed?" As he drove toward the funeral home, I told him (I think in one breath) about my car, Mrs. Rucker and the green van driver. At the funeral home, cops and deputies milled around outside awaiting the end of the service. When we pulled up, one of them spotted me and waved in relief. It was the one who hired me, Mike Young.

As the pickup guy — Jim Murray, I later found out — drove off, I shook my head and laughed. A take-charge angel in a Beallsville football T-shirt.

That wasn't all. I encountered more angels that day. There was Lee, the infamous green van driver, who drove me to the Jerusalem cemetery and called me "young lady" — "You just sit tight there, young lady." "I'll get the door for you, young lady." "Where're you from, young lady?" Lee, bless him, held an umbrella over my head through the entire graveside ceremony, even while I played. After the service when he handed me off to the policemen who were getting my car, Lee said: "You take good care of my girl, now!"

Then there was Officer Young and two more Woodsfield officers, plus Sheriff Charles Black, all of whom arranged for my car to be towed and drove me to pick it up. Unfortunately, there was a mix-up involving two local competing wrecker services. One was called when it was supposed to be the other (because the other had AAA). Apparently, in Monroe County, there is a wrecker war going on. Like any war, it is ugly and unfortunate. I'm not going to go into the gory details. But I WILL say, despite what any of the townsfolk think or believe, individuals from both sides are on my angel list.

I went to Monroe County that day expecting there to be one angel, the honoree of the day, the late Delmas "Mike" Stewart. I was honored to meet several more, and I want to take this opportunity to say "thank you" to every one of them.

(Now let's hope my mechanic can perform a miracle and fix my car for less than $500! An angel in greasy coveralls!)


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