Julie Carter is a New Mexico writer and author whose column appears weekly on Rio Grande Digital.
There are people that pass through our lives that we know we won’t ever forget for one reason or another. John Gaffney is one of those for me.
I always think of John in the dead of winter when the snow has been deep, the thaw has begun, the sky is back to clear but the nights are bitter cold. It was in such a time that I first met him.
John, well into his 80s, was a determined independent soul that loved nothing more than to get in his car, leave the city and head to the hills and wide-open spaces with no particular destination in mind.
On this particular winter day, he did just that. What followed was a series of events that could only be explained by “divine intervention.”
It was past 11 p.m., when a couple of cowboys were headed home from a day of mountain lion hunting. They were running late in the night because the hounds, as they will do, hadn’t returned until long after dark.
It was bitter cold with most of the foot of snow that had fallen the day before still on the ground. They left one ranch where they’d been hunting and headed south to home down a dirt road full of deep frozen ruts.
About half way into the 14 mile drive, the call of nature enticed the driver to pull over to answer it, even though it not that far to home. Both cowboys stepped out of the pickup into the cold starlit night with a plan to “visit” the backside of the horse trailer.
Out of the darkness, a ways back from the road from beneath a big cedar tree, came a weak voice, calling “help, help.”
Both men looked at each other, not sure if they were hearing things or if perhaps one of them thought the other had one beer too many. One cowboy was sure it was some sort of a set up or an ambush, so he reached in the pickup to get his pistol.
The other cowboy wandered toward the voice without thinking a thing about it except, “what or who in the world could that be?”
It was John. Earlier in the day, he’d gotten his car completely stuck in the mud and snow on a county road a few miles from where these cowboys found him.
He’d made several attempts to walk for help, but not knowing the area, had no idea which way to go to the nearest house. Just hoping for some luck, he took the left fork in the road when he came to it, and walked on.
It was sunny and relatively warm in the afternoon when he started out. He wore only a light shirt, cardigan sweater, dress slacks and dress shoes with thin socks.
The shoes and socks got wet right away and as the sun began to set, a chill settled over John. But he kept walking.
The thermometer dropped into the teens when darkness settled in. Finally late in the night, cold, miserable and totally disoriented, he curled up in a cedar tree and prayed.
He later told his rescuers that he thought he was going to die. When he heard the pickup pulling a rattling stock trailer coming down the road, he began to call for help.
Help was delivered to him. In the middle of the night, in the middle of nowhere, from someone that under normal circumstance would never have been there.
There wasn’t anyone present that night that didn’t know that none of what happened was coincidence. Too many ifs. If the dogs had not come in late, if they’d never stopped the pickup in the exact place that they did ….
Harder to talk about for some than others, John never quit giving praise for his answered prayers. He said he’d been sent two angels to save him. It didn’t bother him one bit that his angels had been wearing cowboy boots.
Julie can be reached for comment at firstname.lastname@example.org. Visit her website at http://julie-carter.com/