Saturday, April 7, 2018

Hopeful Thinking - Saturday, April 7, 2018 - The Job Description

Sadly, as this column publishes, I will be burying my father. He was a good man who served his country and taught me a lot. And while there are of course many sadnesses, there are also joys to be remembered. Stories. Jokes. Friends who cherished him. I look forward to shaking their hands.
Of all the stories my dad told me, one in particular stands out.
In the 1970’s my father and his brother moved our families from Fitchburg and Lunenburg nearly 1,500 miles south to Miami, Florida. They had purchased an oil company franchise and each drove gas trucks at night filling up the tanks of post office vehicles. My mother did the bookkeeping and cared for three mostly well-behaved very young children.
My father’s job was extremely hard work. Very physically demanding. Racing around truck yards, lugging heavy gas lines from tank to tank, and climbing in and out of his truck cab hundreds of times a night. All racing against the clock before the mail carriers needed to make their appointed rounds. If gloom of night didn’t matter to mail carriers, it didn’t matter to the gas guys who filled their trucks either.
My father actually was a mail carrier here in Fitchburg when I was born. I’ve seen a picture of him in his uniform with a heavy mail bag slung across his shoulder and a big apple-cheeked grin. I wonder if he’d ever given thought to who prepared his truck for him long before his day began each predawn morning. I wonder what he thought about it when he became the one doing it for others.
Between Naples, Florida and Ft. Lauderdale there’s an infamous stretch of highway. It’s official name is Interstate 75, but is more popularly known as Alligator Alley. Part of my dad’s gas route took him along this dangerous 80-mile road bisecting the swampy marshlands of the Everglades.
Tourists who plan to make the trek are cautioned to be sure their gas tanks are filled, snacks and water are packed, emergency kits are checked, and above all, don’t drive it at night. Not only can the long, straight road mesmerize a tired driver and send them spiraling off into the swamp, but even the locked interior of a pulled-over, broken down car is no safe place to wait till morning. Critters of all kinds can nuzzle up to the engine block for warmth and find their way inside. Don’t bother going outside to answer nature’s call. You may not live to tell about it.
One night, my father came upon a car in just that state. The blinker was on. In his panic he had reflexively flipped his signal as he exited the lane. Car slightly at an angle to the road. Gently rolling to a stop with not even enough gas to bring the car parallel to the shoulder. I can picture it slowing; the gritty sound of tires rolling onto the sandy edge of the pavement. Engine sputtering to a stop, and then, no sound at all but nervous breathing, the clink-clink of the blinker, and the terrifying thrum of volumes of life just outside the window.
And then, perhaps after a likely prayer for deliverance, headlights approaching, the sound of a truck. And not just any truck. My dad’s truck. A truck that just happened to be filled with gas.
I have so many times throughout my life imagined that night. I’ve wondered what was actually said between them (my father never remembered the conversation). What the man was thinking in the moments before he knew he was being rescued. I wondered how he thought about his problem as the solution was literally driving straight toward him. My savior dad to the rescue.
I always imagined that the man thanked him profusely. Probably offered money. But if he did, I bet it was refused.
The one thing I’ve consistently envisioned is their departure. I can imagine the stranded man saying thank you again as they shake hands. They start to head to their own vehicles, but just before they disappear inside, the man asks my father his name.
“Dan Darcangelo,” my father would have said.
“That’s an interesting name. What does it mean?”
“It means ‘of the archangel’ in Italian.”
I wonder what the stranded fellow would have though of his prayer for deliverance being answered by a man named archangel suddenly showing up in the middle of the Everglades at night in his own gas truck. I wonder if his jaw left an imprint in the pavement. I wonder what became of his faith.
Ever since first hearing that story, I understood who I was and the purpose of the name my dad gave me. It tells me who I am. It’s not about being a literal angel, of course. But it is about deliberately choosing that as my life’s job description.
For whom are we angels? For whom do we show up exactly when needed? Exactly when called?
My dad was no angel. But perhaps that’s not exactly true. Perhaps we just don’t know what angels really are. Perhaps they’re exactly like a guy in a gas truck.

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