Recently, my daughter Lindsey came across a story I wrote several years ago. The story I had penned was the retelling of an unintentional weekend spent in Lusk, Wyoming. Lindsey suggested I post the story on my blog….
A Small Town’s Big Heart
My husband, Dick*, placed the last of our duffel bags in the trunk of our car while I buckled our two children in their car seats. Lindsey was four years old, Garrett age two. The kiddos could barely contain themselves and neither could I. For weeks we had been planning a camping trip to Mount Rushmore and the time had finally arrived. It was early summer 1991 and our little family was in need of a fun weekend. The previous eighteen months had brought about many changes for us: A move from our home in Georgia to Louisiana and then another from Louisiana to Wyoming. The moves had been difficult for all of us and were especially unsettling for Lindsey and Garrett, who had been accustomed to having family live nearby.
We lived on a tight budget while in Cheyenne. After paying rent, utilities and the other basics of living, there was little money left. Frivolous purchases and leisure trips were not an option. But we had decided we could manage a three-day camping trip to the Black Hills of South Dakota. I had the budget worked out: $8.00 per day for the camp site, $40.00 for gasoline. Food, snacks and drinks we were bringing from home. Between the two of us we would have $90.00 for incidentals.
As we drove north of Cheyenne on Interstate 25, Lindsey and Garrett sang from the backseat, “We’re going to Mt. Rushmore!” The early morning drive was clear and crisp. The wide open spaces and the blue Wyoming sky were breathtaking. I remember feeling far removed from the lush green hills of Georgia, and marveled at the varied and magnificent beauty of the country we live in. Time in the car passed quickly, and when Cheyenne was two hours behind us, we turned east onto a two lane road toward Lusk, Wyoming. We weren’t far from Mount Rushmore now! We continued our eastward drive and passed thru the little town of Lusk without giving her a second thought. Yet almost as soon as we left Lusk, I noticed something. More accurately, I noticed nothing. There were no homes, stores or gas stations anywhere in our line of vision…and we could see clearly across acres of fields and pasture. We had driven several miles before I saw the first lone, rusted mailbox on the side of the road, but there was not a house in sight to go with the mailbox. I began to wonder what people did to entertain themselves. How did anyone ever get to know another person out here? I realized I hadn’t seen a school or a church building, nor had we seen another vehicle since driving thru Lusk. At that moment, I felt very isolated, as if we were the only people on Earth.
Lindsey and Garrett were getting restless so I began playing a game with them. A game we had come up with… the “Looking for a Herd of Buffalo Game”. Or as Garrett called it, “Looking for a Hurricane of Buth-A-Lo”. Just after we started the game, Dick said, “I think there’s something wrong with the car“. The words were still on his tongue when the car shivered and died. Unwilling to accept or believe our misfortune, we sat in stunned silence for a brief moment.
I spoke first, “What will we do?”
Dick said he was almost positive the timing belt had broken, and sure enough, checking beneath the hood proved he was correct. While Dick was outside the car, removing tools from the trunk, I sat inside with the kiddos and tried to maintain a positive atmosphere. For the past couple of years, it seemed even our best intentions had gone sour. This trip was solely for Lindsey and Garrett and we were about to disappoint them. I realized they were too young to remember much of what I had told them about Mt. Rushmore, but I had shown them photos and they knew they were going to see big faces of United States Presidents carved into the side of a mountain. And they were excited about sleeping in a tent.
While Dick worked under the car’s hood, I said a breath prayer that God would help us out of this predicament. Before long, Dick stepped around the car to the passenger window and told me there was nothing he could do to repair the car. He also said we would have a difficult time finding a timing belt considering our location. “I guess my only option is to start walking…but which direction should I go”? As if on cue, at that very moment, we heard a soft rumble. Soon, an eighteen-wheeled big rig truck came into view on the Eastern horizon. Before long we recognized the unmistakable blue and white of a Wal-Mart truck. My first thought was that he would probably pass us by. We were from suburban Atlanta, where truck drivers don’t stop for stranded motorists. But he did stop. And he offered us a ride back to Lusk. We told him Lusk was about forty miles in the direction we had just driven from. He told us we were correct, but that we would find nothing for sixty miles or more, if we tried to go east. “You best hop on in,” he said. The four of us piled into the cab of his big truck. Garrett was ecstatic to be riding in a big Wal-Mart truck. Lindsey was concerned about leaving our car “all by itself”. Our new friend assured Lindsey our car would be alright. “People in Wyoming are the friendliest I’ve ever seen,” he told Lindsey, and that satisfied her. Soon enough we were back in Lusk. Smooth as silk, the driver pulled the big rig to an idle stop in front of a small truck stop. As he climbed out of the truck, he said he knew the manager of the restaurant and would explain to him our situation. The driver said he knew for certain the truck stop manager wouldn’t mind if we hung around for a while. He also felt certain someone in the restaurant would know where we could get the parts needed for our car. So while Dick and the driver spoke to the manager, the kids and I sat at a table. A waitress offered us Pepsi….on the house. Before long, Dick came to our table without the driver; our friend was back on the road. Dick had good news, “There’s a kid here who has agreed to drive me to an auto parts store just over the Nebraska line. I promised to give him twenty-five dollars.” Immediately, I did the math. We would have $65.00 left. On top of that, Dick would need money to buy the timing belt. Mount Rushmore would be out of the question. I thought of Lindsey and Garrett’s disappointment and wondered how I would make it up to them.
“Ok. I guess the kids and I will wait here for you,” I said.
Dick had something of a puzzled, choked-up look on his face when he said, “You don’t have to wait here. The town has a fund for stranded motorists. A sheriff’s deputy is on his way here…right now…to take us to a motel. They will also give us vouchers for meals in a couple of the restaurants. This is unbelievable…a free motel room”.
In minutes, the deputy arrived and drove us to the motel; a very old, seldom used facility. But it was clean and welcoming. I was humbled by the kindness and generosity of the people in this little town. The deputy told me to call him when we were ready for dinner, he would send a car for the children and me so that we wouldn’t have to walk. He promised to drive by and check on us from time to time as well. Soon, Dick and his teenaged chauffeur were on their way to Nebraska and the little ones and I were settling into our room. As promised, the deputy drove by to check on us throughout the day and evening. He also gave us a ride to a restaurant in his official vehicle. Lindsey, being four-years old and aware that bad guys ride in police cars, was wide-eyed with concern. Garrett, in the meantime, was loving the adventure.
Just before nightfall, Dick returned, empty-handed. He had arrived at the Nebraska store too late. The store was closed for the evening and worse, would be closed the next two days for a holiday. Nothing, it seemed, would be open until Tuesday morning. There was nothing we could do but sit it out and wait. I had to admit, things could have been much worse. If we had to break down, Lusk was the place to do it. The kiddos were having the time of their lives, not at all bereaved over missing Mount Rushmore. We were the only occupants of the motel, so we had set up the tent in the parking lot. So to them, We Were Camping! Excitedly, they told their dad about riding in the police car and “walking a long, long way to play in the city park”.
That night, the four of us slept soundly between cool, clean sheets. The next morning, we were considering a walk to a nearby grocery for breakfast items, when someone knocked on the door. A kind man had heard of us, had heard we would be in town a little longer, and he wanted to be certain we had everything we needed. He also gave us gift certificates to his restaurant. Words were difficult, I was so overwhelmed with emotion. I choked out a thank you and sat on the side of the bed and cried tears of relief, embarrassment, thankfulness and humility. We had done nothing to deserve this kindness. God was pouring out His mercies on us thru strangers. He was answering those prayers I had whispered to Him while broken down on the side of the road.
Eventually, we made it to Mount Rushmore. But not that weekend. That weekend we had lessons to learn: Loving a Neighbor, in our case a traveler, as yourself. Being kind to others. Giving of yourself for the benefit of another. Extending kindness…and receiving it.
I’ve thought of that weekend many times during the past two decades. It still amazes me. My family experienced miracles that weekend. God places angels everywhere and He works thru them. Look carefully for them, because they don’t have wings and a halo. Sometimes they look like a truck driver. Sometimes a burly sheriff’s deputy. Another time, they may look like a truck stop cook sporting a grease covered apron.
And sometimes they look like Lusk, Wyoming.