It was March 1988 and I was west bound on highway 205 just before Tracy. The car I was driving was a wreck. I had a tool box on the back seat along with a few spare parts and the hope that I’d spent my last few dollars on the right ones. The fields were green with new alfalfa and here and there a cow, or a horse. The afternoon sun was nearing the horizon and I had about an hour’s drive to the safety of home.
I saw back smoke rising to my right, just off the highway. Cresting the highway overpass the smoke was already diminishing. There in a little field bounded by barbed wire stood a horse and a man with a hose. He was spraying the remains of a burnt shed. He was dressed in blue jeans and a blue shirt.
A line entered my head, “A blue man lived, with burnt dreams and smoldering hope.”
A week before I’d spent an awful three hours in the dark on the cold windy Altamont Pass. Hours earlier the fan belt had broken just outside Livermore and I’d spent the cash in my pocket at a gas station getting it repaired. Thirty minutes later, there I was stuck again waiting for the highway patrol to stop. Instead a man in an old pickup truck stopped. He asked what the problem was.
“Well, you see,” I said, “I got a call this morning that my uncle was taken to the hospital with a brain aneurism and I am on my way to Stockton to get my mother, his sister, to take her to the hospital in San Jose. Then this piece of junk car broke down in Livermore, fan belt. I paid to get it fixed, but now it’s broken again and I am out of money. Mother’s car is broken too, or she’d driven herself over. God if he dies before I get her to the hospital…”
“Pop the hood, son and let me take a look. I am a Christian man and drive this road sometimes to help people. I’ll see what I can do for you. You don’t need to pay me.”
He pulled a flashlight out of his pocket and looked into the depths of my engine. Then he went back to his truck and came back with a wrench. The little beat up ’78 Toyota Starlet shook as he worked then he came back to the window.
“One of the bolts on the alternator broke. I put in one I had, but it ain’t the right size. Have to do for now. Well, start her up son, let’s see if that will hold.”
I started the engine. It held.
“I’ll follow you down to Tracy, but then I got to head back. You should be fine till Stockton. I’ll say a prayer for your uncle. And son, best to wait till daylight before bringing your momma back this way.”
I don’t know where he went. He gave me a business card, but all it had was a Bible quote on it.
In Tracy, I stopped at a gas station and called Mother to let her know why I was delayed. Ten hours after I left my apartment in San Jose, I arrived in Stockton, cold, tired and discouraged. My mission of mercy, rapidly failing.
Mother had hot chocolate and a meal for me. She slept on the couch and had me sleep in the bedroom. Mother gave me a few dollars and I walked over to an auto parts store where I got the right bolt. After a little repair using a wrench set I’d given mother as a joke one Christmas, we were back on the road.
We managed to get to the hospital just before visiting hours at the ICU. My aunt and cousin were already there. The news wasn’t good, but he was still alive.
He lived in a comma for nine months. My brothers and I got enough money together to get mom’s car fixed and she was able to get over nearly every weekend to visit. Even though they’d been divorced for 10 years, father slipped me a couple of hundred for mother, telling me not to tell her where it came from.
A week after I brought her over, mother needed to get back to her job. I drove her in that rickety old car with the tool box in back. I stayed in Stockton long enough to make arrangements to get her car fixed.
I saw that burning barn on my way home and that line has never left me, “The blue man lived…”
Uncle was a working man, most often seen in blue jeans with a blue denim jacket.
That line haunted my thoughts for a while after that journey home, so I wrote a poem about it. I showed it to my mother and she knew what I meant. It drew us closer for a time.
I found that poem yesterday in the back of a file drawer. I thought I’d lost it as it was written so long ago. It’s not a very good poem, but reading it again bought back the memory of a time filled with sorrow and a time when written words were the only way to express what was in my heart.
Till next week,