Revelations are supposed to happen on roads.
Prophecies on the road from Delphi. Epiphany on the way to Judah. Miracles on the road to Damascus.
You don’t expect them to happen on empty highways in East Texas.
I was driving my grandfather-in-law to his home. He was moving into an assisted living facility and wanted to give his tools to me. He was insistent that a person with a young family needed tools, although he was grossly overestimating my handiness around the house. We drove in partial silence. He had lost much of his hearing decades ago while serving in the Navy and, for years, he had been losing his short-term memory. Then, we passed a small car dealership.
He had passed the same dealership after his wife’s cancer diagnosis. Treatment had left her exhausted and it wasn’t clear if it would be effective. She had dreamed of having a Lincoln Town Car of her own. In an effort to lift her spirits, he stopped at the dealership and they looked and sat in the cars. In a tan one, she smiled effervescently. She loved it. They drove it off the lot that day.
He couldn’t afford it, he told me. But he also couldn’t afford not to buy it. Its cost was a small price to pay for the small joy that it brought her. “Was it worth it?” I asked with the slight flippancy that most of us have when old-timers tell us their stories. He ignored my insouciance, brushed it aside and let me know with a seriousness that showed in his eyes. “Oh, yes.” In that moment, I realized I had casually batted away his singular certainty, the truth that had kept him grounded. His love for her was not passing, it was certain and eternal — as was his soul, as was his salvation.
Arthur Fred Mowrey met Delois Yvonne Bivens in Paris, Texas. They were young when they met and they were young when they married. He went off to the Navy, she stayed home and raced cars. Behind the wheel, she turned her 1966 Dodge Coronet into quite the racer. When they had kids, she’d send him out in the middle of the night in the middle of East Texas to find watermelon to quench her pregnancy cravings. There were no 24-hour grocery stores then, but Fred came back with watermelon. They were deeply religious, but condemnation didn’t figure into their devotion. She wanted to cut her hair and smoke her cigarettes, so they left the Pentecostal church that told them it was a sin to do so. They refused to disown their son when he came out, despite what their pastor said.
By the time I had met him, his wife had passed after years of fighting bone cancer. He had retired to take care of her, to fall asleep in uncomfortable chairs next to her. He had given her a whistle to blow when she needed him and he was in the other room. When she passed, he kept that whistle close to him, until his last days.
He was already suffering short-term memory loss when I met him. Conversations with him would begin, falter, start where they began, falter, and start over again. But occasionally, the conversation would move toward his wife. Despite the slow creep of dementia that blurred his past memories, he would latch onto that train of thought, hold it dearly. Hold it with certainty. The memory of his wife — the love they shared — was recorded on a part of his brain that couldn’t be erased.
This love was something deeper than bone, rooted in something beyond the breakdown of the body and the decline of the mind. It was present and palpable, transcending physical explanation. In those small moments, when he told stories about their life together, I was more certain than ever that there was such thing as a love that would live past our loss.
It was a miracle.
Fred would deny he was a saint. He’d likely declare that he was a sinner, saved but for the grace of God. But, he was responsible for conjuring a miracle.
One of the only I’ve experienced.