Just before midnight. Somewhere on the Texas prairie. A 20-year-old named Mark was driving on a two-lane highway on his way home.
You have to be careful when driving on an empty prairie. It’s easy to develop “prairie foot.” On a flat landscape, without landmarks, your foot tends to get heavy on the gas pedal. It’s not hard to travel upwards of 200 miles per hour by accident.
Mark saw flashing hazards ahead. A brokedown truck with a horse trailer attached. He pumped his brakes and pulled over. And in the rural tradition of all who wear roper boots, he was ready to help.
“Need a hand?”
A young woman slid from beneath the truck chassis. She had grease smudges on her face. She was holding a scissor jack. And she was the most beautiful girl he’d ever seen.
Mark felt his breath get trapped in his throat.
She smiled. “Sorry. No speak’a the Inglés too good.”
Her truck had a flat tire. In her passenger seat was a silent elderly woman. The girl had been under the vehicle looking for the jackpoint on the old Silverado, which can be dangerous business for the uninitiated.
“Allow me,” Mark said, already on the pavement.
It turned out to be a bigger problem than he’d expected. Her spare tire was shot, worn to the canvas. There was no way she was getting home on that thing.
Mark attached the horse trailer to his own truck and told her he’d take them home. But where did she live? Her jumbled English made it impossible to understand her directions.
So the girl drew him a map. And since there was no paper in Mark’s truck to write upon, she used a Sharpie to draw the route on Mark’s hand.
He presented her his hand, which was trembling when she wrote upon it.
It was 2 A.M. when he reached her aunt’s house. He led the horse into the barn, he helped the old woman inside, he disconnected the bumper-pull trailer, and promised to return the next morning.
Return he did. And when Mark arrived, he was driving the formerly brokedown truck into the driveway, newly outfitted with four all-season tires. The tires cost Mark most of his meager savings.
Then he asked the girl on a date. Her name is Leticia.
Here’s another one for you.
I got a letter from Rachel, in North Georgia, who told me about a stray dog in her neighborhood. Rachel went online to see if anyone could figure out where the dog came from. To her surprise she located the owner.
But when she arrived at the owner’s house, something felt wrong. The owner wasn’t a friendly man, and the dog seemed terrified.
The owner jokingly remarked that he wished the dog would’ve been hit by a car. The comment was supposed to be humorous, but it was not.
So Rachel made a bold move. She offered to take the dog off his hands and discovered the owner was more than happy to say goodbye. The poor dog didn’t even have a name.
So Rachel brought the old boy home and bathed him in her shower. She let him sleep in her bed. She fed him half the contents of her fridge. She named him Walter.
This might not sound like the greatest story ever told, but I bet Walter has a different opinion.
Which brings me to another story.
Shortly after I wrote that last few paragraphs, just when I thought I was finished with this shoddy column, I got an email message from an woman in San Diego, California, named Susan.
I have never been to San Diego. I have never met Susan. But we have something in common. Susan is a Sherlock Holmes freak. And I myself share the same crippling affliction.
When I was 10 years old my father introduced me to Sherlock and I became a kid forever obsessed.
In 1957, Susan’s mother gifted her a complete volume of Sherlock Holmes stories. The book was heavy, and thicker than a family Bible. The inside cover read: “Happy birthday. Love, Mom.”
Her mother died the following year.
In 1963, Susan got married and moved to Japan with her husband. Half their possessions went to goodwill and storage, the other half got shipped off to the Land of the Rising Sun. The Holmes book was lost.
When Susan moved back to the States she searched everywhere, rummaging through storage, but she found nothing. Finally she gave up.
Fifty-eight years later, Susan visited a San Diego antique store by chance. And by now, you’ve already figured out where this story is going.
In the store, Susan found a book with familiar handwriting inside:
“Happy birthday. Love, Mom.”
The store priced the book at 40 bucks. The clerk asked Susan why she was weeping over a 40-dollar book. Susan smiled and told the cashier, “I woulda paid forty thousand for this book.”
So I know it’s been a hard year, and I know sometimes you’re tempted to think about how horrible things are on the Highway of Human Existence. But when you feel blue, pause for a moment.
Think of that antique book. Think of Walter the dog, eating a frozen burrito alongside his new human.
Think of the Texas Plains, and a 20-year-old boy in boots. Think of a girl, drawing a roadmap on the boy’s palm. And remember that the best things in life usually happen right after the worst is over.
Then, when you’re done with all your thinking, join me in wishing Mark and Leticia a happy 2nd wedding anniversary.