The last time I went to Kentucky, I got lost. Ten minutes after I crossed the state line my GPS quit working and I found myself on a two-lane highway, adrift within an ocean of wild green hills that never ended.
The first thought I had was: “I think I’ve found heaven.”
I’ve read claims about certain U.S. states that boast the most greenery. Well, I think Kentucky is up there with the champs. We’re talking about a place that’s roughly 12 million acres of woodlands, which comes out to nearly 49 percent of the state.
Kentucky is also home to one of the biggest elk herds east of the Rockies; cradle to the Boy Scouts of America; the birthplace of Mother’s Day; also Abraham Lincoln; and the home of perhaps the greatest philosopher, thinker, and role model of our time, Jim Varney.
Which is why I was pleased to get a letter recently from Eastern Kentucky, sent to me from a man we’ll call Frank.
Frank has been working construction for 43 years. And last week, after a long day at work, he was riding home, feeling depressed because he had this nagging feeling he was about to be laid off before the New Year.
The company Frank works for has fallen on hard times since the pandemic hit; there have been lots of layoffs. Frank believed he was next to go because, in his own words, “I’m too old.”
Frank is in his 60s. His younger coworkers work for cheap, and are considerably more spry. You fall off a ladder at 23, you get up and keep working. You fall off a ladder at 60-something, your boss calls the local funeral home.
So Frank’s truck was rolling through a heavenly rural highway. It was already dark outside, the moon was out, and he saw something in the road.
The small object looked like an upside-down bowl, inching forward. It was a turtle, meandering across the pavement.
Frank pulled over and stopped traffic. He approached the turtle and noticed the creature was missing one of its hindlegs.
He felt so moved, watching this wounded animal struggle to cross a highway, that he forgot all about work problems. Frank couldn’t leave the turtle there. It didn’t seem right. So he picked it up and took it home.
“He peed all over me,” Frank recounts.
Later that night, Frank made the turtle a pen in his backyard. He researched online what to feed turtles and how to care for them. Frank’s wife wasn’t exactly thrilled about having a new reptile in the family, but it turned out she got along better with the turtle than with her in-laws.
The next morning, Frank left for his long interstate commute to work. He got halfway to the jobsite when he received a call from his boss. His stomach went sour.
Because when he answered the phone, somehow he knew what his young boss phoned to say. The supervisor said there was no need for Frank to come to work today—or any other day for that matter. He had been let go.
Happy New Year, Frank.
Frank took an offramp and pulled over so he could cuss openly at his steering wheel.
As he states it in his letter, using the finely crafted prose often found within the Bluegrass State: “This pandemic has been a royal [bleeping] pain in my [bleep].”
That’s when Frank saw something in the distance, trotting along the interstate. There was no mistaking the shape. It was a dog. Scrawny. Black with brown markings. The thing was about to get killed.
Cars whistled past the animal, horns honking, tires screeching. Frank winced when the dog almost got hit several times.
And so it was that an older man jogged into traffic, for a second time, to save an animal.
Try to visualize this image: a white-haired guy is bolting across several lanes of interstate congestion, dodging speeding vehicles, flagging back transfer trucks, fending off SUVs, for a dog.
Frank lifted the dog in his arms. It was a young animal, female, maybe 2 years old. Once in his truck he gave her a Pop Tart and that was all it took. They became instant friends.
She had no collar and she was starving. Frank could count the dog’s ribs. When he got back home, he was too preoccupied with his new friend to tell his wife about his recent unemployment. Oddly, he admits, he wasn’t even thinking about his job.
Maybe this was because Frank’s big heart had other things to worry about. Or maybe it was because Frank was too busy outfitting a laundry room with bowls of food and a warm doggie bed. Who’s to say?
Either way, when the pup howled and whimpered into the wee hours, Frank climbed out of bed and spent the night beside her in the laundry room. He stroked her fur, talked softly, and held her trembling body until both fell asleep curled against the washing machine.
Frank’s letter ends right there. He never told me what he planned on doing with the turtle or the dog. I never learned whether he named the animals. And he never told me anything more about his job situation.
The way he ended his letter was with these words: “I feel like there was some kind of divine reason for all this, what do you think?”
Well, what do I think?
Frank, between the two of us, you know more about divine matters. You’re the one who lives in heaven.