I was traveling the familiar road between Greenwood and Milford today. It is a road that is as familiar to me as almost any road in the entire world. I live on this road, for one thing. For another, it was the road that connected my childhood home with THE CITY as we knew it. Any real shopping, grocery or otherwise, was always done in Milford. My paternal grandparents lived in Milford. It was a road well traveled.
Close to one end of the ten mile stretch is the Greenwood Mennonite Church. We called it “The Brick Church” when I was a little girl. And my Grandpa Yoder referred to that final couple miles as “Molasses Street” because it had so many Mennonites on it. My family history lies rich in those miles, with great aunts and uncles, and even my Great Grandfather Val Bender’s house, along that stretch. Uncle Eli and Aunt Amelia Swartzentruber, Uncle Milt and Aunt Savannah Swartzentruber, (living in the old Church/School House that had been converted into a home) Uncle Nevin and Aunt Esther Bender, Uncle Ted and Aunt Pauline Beachy, Uncle Eli and Aunt Lucy Schrock. Their houses lined the road in intervals along the way, and sometimes, my Daddy’s cousins and my second cousins would settle on family lands on either sides.
Along the way, there was a small settlement that we called “Staytonsville.” It had a little store, and across the field were the rickety shacks of what we knew as a “Migrant Camp.” My Daddy had a special interest in the camp, and for a while held Sunday School there. I remember going along with him as a child, and being in awe of the poverty and dirt and the dark skinned faces of the children. Life there was so transitory, because the migrant workers followed the harvest, wherever it would take them. It was usually abandoned by autumn, though I do remember smoke coming out of the smokestacks at least one winter. Sometimes when I go through the intersection that we still know as Staytonsville, I look across those empty fields and remember that camp and wonder where the children are who once were there.
Somewhere in the middle is a section that we call “Holly Swamp.” When I was a child, it was a thickly wooded area where the trees on either side spread their branches across the road and made a long green tunnel in the summer time. It looked mysterious and beautiful and majestic. It was one of my favorite parts of the road. The years have changed that segment, and houses have sprung up in the woods, the woodland has been timbered out, and the changes have stolen the charm somewhat. It still has some beautiful spots, and some of the houses are pretty, but by and large, it doesn’t begin to have the enchantment.
Just before entering the area that we knew as “Holly Swamp” there is a long, sweeping bend in the road. This is the bend in the road that is a special Point of Grace for this Sussex County Gal.
It was the spring of 1973. I was nineteen years old, just months from our summer wedding, and working in Milford for Dr. and Mrs. Crabb and their four young children. Fran was in the final months of her life, holding onto the little things of life with all her might, enjoying and loving her children and her pets with the urgency of the dying, and taking up the sadness for all the injustices of the world. Into this mix came a litter of abandoned kittens, sending Frannie into a cataclysm of worry and sorrow. She already had two dogs and a passel of cats in the house, most of whom were not really housebroken. They had a new house, and the animals were seriously leaving their marks in destructive ways. As much as Dr. Crabb loved her, he refused to allow the kittens to stay. She had to find a home for them somehow, somewhere, someway. But not some day. It had to be pretty much immediately.
She was worried, and sad, and she told me the whole sordid tale when I came to work one morning. I immediately told her that I thought we could take the kittens. They would be barn cats, but that wouldn’t matter, they would at least have shelter and food. Fran eagerly accepted my offer, and when I left that afternoon, we loaded them up into a cardboard box and put it on the floor of my little Volkswagen beetle. She put a warm shirt in the box to comfort them while they were journeying, and I set out.
Things went pretty well for a few miles. The kittens cowered on the bottom of the box, adjusting to their strange surroundings, and then one of them decided that he really didn’t like it a bit. He leaped up onto the seat and clawed his way around. I was on a fairly straight stretch of road right then (for you locals, the stretch just before Blacksmith Shop Road) so I kinda’ put him back down into the box and threw the shirt over him. Suddenly, I saw that he had crawled into the sleeve and it was a really tight pinch. I worried about him, thinking of how I was going to explain to Mrs. Crabb if he smothered on the way home, so I reached down and picked up the shirt and tried to shake him out of the sleeve. He was not to be dislodged, so I shook the shirt harder. I thought I was watching the road very closely well, at least somewhat, but suddenly, two things happened that imprinted themselves forever in my memory.
The first thing was that I heard some strange bumps under my car and I looked up just in time to see the front of my Volkswagen plow into the road sign that marked the curve for the opposite side of the road. Mowed it right down. I had just crossed over the line of oncoming traffic and the shoulder and was sitting in the grass along the left hand side of the road.
The second thing happened at almost exactly the same time. There was this whooshing sound as a big step van went past just a few feet from where my Volkswagen had stopped. It had “Elvin Schrock and Sons Plumbing” on the side, and I saw the frightened face of either Merlin or Marlin looking out the window at me like they couldn’t quite believe their eyes. It was exactly at the place where my car had crossed the line of oncoming traffic and somehow, the angels had seen fit to carry me safely over that busy lane of traffic onto the grass with the only damage being a slight dent in my front bumper from hitting that sign that was on a single stake.
It is said that the young feel invincible. That may be true, but at that minute I felt anything but invincible. I thought about all the possibilities — not the least of which was what happens to the passenger in an old style Volkswagen when that empty front end hits a big old step van head on at 55 miles an hour. I’m pretty sure those kittens wouldn’t have survived.
Actually, I knew that I would not have. I don’t know how long I sat there, but I was incredibly shaken. Eventually, I put my car in reverse, backed off the sign, and waited for a break in the traffic, then got back on my side of the road and headed through Holly Swamp towards home.
I am not exaggerating a single bit when I say that this experience literally changed life perspective for me on many fronts. I decided that I must have been spared for a reason, that God could have taken me straight home that day if that had been His will. I definitely felt like there was divine intervention that day, not because I was good, or because I was living right or any of those things. I felt like God had something for me to do. Not big and grand and mighty and glorious, but that I was to live purposefully, with enthusiasm and gratefulness.
I don’t think about it every time I go around that corner, but more times than not, I do. I try to never miss a chance to thank God for allowing me to live, to have the life I’ve had. And I try to remember that all of life is a sacred trust. None of us knows about tomorrow. And until the LORD comes back to take His Church Home, none of us will get out of here alive. Our times are truly in HIS Hands, and He does all things well. Even choosing the length of our days.
Oh, yeah. Another thing. I learned that that there is no substitute for keeping your eyes on the road. You shouldn’t make your Guardian Angel work too much overtime.