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ECHO HILL STUDIOS
ARTIST: ANN KAHL
The First Angel
In 1949, when I was nineteen years old, I left my small town in Pennsylvania, and took the Queen of the Valley, pride of the Reading Railroad, to the big city.
The conductor on the Queen of the Valley always wore a red roesbud in his buttonhole. As the train started its run through the Lehigh Valley, he would be adjusting the rosebud. It was always fresh and perfect.
The month was July, and inexperienced as I was, it didn't occur to me that all the high schools in New York City had just discharged endless numbers of graduating students, who promptly swallowed up every entry level job available.
It was very hot in the city that summer. By August the burn of the hot grates on my almost soleless shoes was a recurring event. As I returned from yet another discouraging foray into the financial district on foot, laboring up West Broadway in unbelievable heat, without a thought to the emptiness of my stomach, which hadn't been properly attended to in days, I passed out. It was a long way to the sidewalk, slow, seeming to take forever. In the next moment, I was being lifted like a small child and placed in the front seat of a car. I couldn't have fought if I had wanted to. All of my strength was gone. I had emptied the reserve tank.
As I came to, I became aware of the car I was riding in. It was a soft, lemon yellow, creamy in color, and its convertable roof was folded back. Fresh, almost cool air blew my hair out of my face.
I cannot tell you anything about the appearance of the man who had lifted me into the seat, and was now driving the car, except that he was not ugly, or scarred, or unpleasant in any way. He was every girls dream of a handsome man in a cream colored convertible.
He drove gently, as though his cargo was precious; up the West Side Drive, across to the East Side Drive, and down to Greenwich Village, where I had told him I lived.
My benefactor, savior perhaps, parked in front of a nice restuarant, and escorted me inside. He led me to a quiet table in the corner, and sat down across from me. He ordered food for both of us.
I had as yet barely spoken, my body was still shaking, and I could not pick up my fork. Mr. Whoever He Was took the fork from my trembling hand and gently fed me.
When I had eaten all I could, the man took me back to the car, and asked me to show him where I lived, which was in a Women's Residence Home on West Ninth Street. He drove me to my doorstep and helped me out of the car. He walked me up the steps of the friendly, familiar brownstone. He rang the doorbell. As though I were in a fairy tale, he bowed to me, and turned back to his car. As the housemistress opened the door, he drove away.
I never even knew his name.
The Second Angel
One evening, about twenty-five years ago, I ran away from home. I was not a rebellious teenager, I was a grown woman with responsibilities. My husband and I had had an argument that left me deprived of my autonomy; any integration of my personal self was wavering to the point of falling apart completely. I was frightened and determined to get away from the cause of alienation that seemed so intolerable in the moment, and at three o'clock in the morning, I just took off, leaving behind me husband, children, pets and a lovely home, driving through the dark to who knows where.
About thirty miles from home, on a very dark night, the electricity in my car stopped working. The motor went off, the lights went out, and blinded, I coasted to the edge of the highway.
As luck would have it, I lost my power along the edge of a huge tractor-trailer resting place, so at least I was off the highway. I was helpless, and there seemed nothing to do. After a half-hour of sitting in my useless car, extremely cold, I realized that a large, darker place behind me was actually a huge truck. I sat for another ten minutes, trying to decide whether there was anything I could safely do with this new information. Finally I took a deep breath, stepped out of my car, and walked back, way back, to the place where the semi was parked. When I got there, I discovered something I had not realized before, i.e., how large a truck like that really is. I had to steel my mind just to figure out how to get up to the door on the driver's side of the truck. I pulled myself up and knocked.
Then I got down, and the door slowly opened. A large, burly man leaned out and asked me what I wanted. I told him my problem. Then I walked back to my car, shaking but determined, as I heard the engine of the truck roar into life.
The truck, perhaps a sixteen wheeler, pulled up beside my car. The driver got out, asked for my keys, and tried to start my car. It was completely dead. I had not seen a car pass all the time I had been sitting there, and I was alone with a strange man, and totally dependent on him in the middle of the darkest night I had ever known.
He began examining the car, a bit bewildered, until he found that in order to charge the engine, the front seat had to be removed. He set it out beside the highway. Then he explained to me, high up there in the cab where he had directed me to sit, that I needed to stay there, where it was warm, while he hooked his engine up to my battery.
The night was extremely cold, and I was glad to stay in the warm cab.
When the wires had been put into place, and everything was go, the gruff truck driver directed me to the driver's seat, where he instructed me on how to hold the accelerator in such a way that it would do the job on my car, and keep us from freezing to death as well. It wasn't until later that I understood, as a result of something almost unintelligible that he mumbled, that he had set it up in such a way that someone's foot would always be on the accelerator, but that his body at no time had to touch mine.
We sat in the dark for another half hour, after which he replaced my car seat, settled me in my car, and explained to me that if I got off at the next exit, there was an open service station where I could find help.
That big, burley rough-looking truck-driver followed me to the exit, got off behind me, followed me into the station, and stayed with me until I had called home and my husband was coming to get me. As it so happens, the wiring in my car was frayed, and I would not have made it home.
The semi went on its way, into the cold and unknown darkness, leaving me with a memory of kindness that will be with me as long as I live.
The THIRD ANGEL
One day I was flying to Philadelphia from San Francisco, and the plane stopped at O'Hare in Chicago on the way. As we were landing, I noticed that a little old lady ahead of me seemed unsure, so I decided to keep an eye on her.
We walked down the ramp in tandem, and she made her way into the terminal. I followed, and sure enough, after a few moments, she hesitated, and then stopped altogether. At this point, I walked up to her, and quietly asked if she needed any help. She said, "Yes," her voice wavering a bit, and I was about to reassure her, when she waved to people some distance away, saying,
"Oh! There they are."
Turning to me, she spoke again.
"Those are my people." she said. "But who are you?"
"Don't you know?" I asked.
"No." she said. And I answered her,
"I'm your guardian angel." And with that, I disappeared into the crowd.
I never knew quite why I did that. I do have a mischievous streak. I have told that story to others. Most enjoyed it. but in at least one case, the registered reaction was shock and disapproval. (Something I'm not entirely unfamiliar with.)
But you know, even now, thirty-five years later, I think of that little lady with love; an extending of health and well-being. For all I know, maybe she is better off somewhere for having received my unexpected impulse. I like to think so. Maybe I really am her guardian angel.
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