In 1960, I woke up one morning with six hungry babies and just 75 cents to my name. The boys ranged in age from 3 months to 7 years; their sister was 2. Their father was gone. He had never been much more than a presence they feared. Whenever they heard his tires crunch on the gravel driveway, they would scramble to hide under their beds. He did manage to provide $15 a week to buy groceries. Now that he had decided to leave, there would be no more beatings, but no food either. If there was a welfare system in southern Indiana at that time, I certainly knew nothing about it.
I scrubbed the kids until they looked brand-new and then put on my best homemade dress, loaded them into our rusty old ’51 Chevy, and drove off to find a job. The seven of us went to every factory, store, and restaurant in our small town. No luck. The kids stayed crammed in the car and tried to be quiet while I tried to convince whoever would listen that I was willing to learn or do anything. I needed a job, but no one would hire me.
The last place we went, just a few miles out of town, was an old Root Beer Barrel drive-in that had been converted to a truck stop. It was called the Big Wheel. An old lady named Granny owned the place, and she peeked out the window from time to time, looking at all those kids. She needed someone to work the graveyard shift,11:00 at night until 7:00 in the morning. She paid 65 cents an hour, and I could start that night. I raced home and called the teenager down the street who babysat for people. I bargained with her to come and sleep on my sofa for a dollar a night. She could arrive in her pajamas and the kids would already be asleep. This seemed like a good arrangement to her, so we made a deal. That night when the little ones and I knelt to say our prayers, we all thanked God for finding a job for mommy.
And so I started at the Big Wheel. When I got home in the mornings, I woke up the babysitter and sent her home with one dollar of my tip money—fully half of what I averaged each night. As the weeks went by, heating bills added a strain to my meager wage. The tires on the old Chevy had the consistency of penny balloons and began to leak. I had to fill them with air on the way to work and again every morning before I could go home. One bleak fall morning, I dragged myself to the car to go home and found four new tires in the back seat. New tires! There was no note, nothing, just those beautiful brand new tires. Had angels taken up residence in Indiana, I wondered? I made a deal with the local service station; in exchange for his mounting the new tires, I would clean his office. I remember it took me a lot longer to scrub his floor than it did for him to do the tires.
I was now working six nights a week instead of five, and it still wasn’t enough. Christmas was coming, and I knew there would be no money for toys for the kids. I found a can of red paint and started repairing and painting some old toys, then hid them in the basement so there would be something for Santa to deliver on Christmas morning. Clothes were a worry, too. I was sewing patches on top of patches on the boys’ pants, and soon they would be too far gone to repair.
On Christmas Eve, the usual customers—truckers Les, Frank, and Jim and state trooper Joe—were drinking coffee at the Big Wheel. A few musicians were hanging around after a gig at the Legion and were dropping nickels in the pinball machine. The regulars all just sat around and talked through the wee hours of the morning and then left to get home before the sun came up. When it was time for me to go home at 7:00 a.m. Christmas morning, to my amazement, my old battered Chevy was filled to the top with boxes of all shapes and sizes. I quickly opened the driver’s door, crawled inside, and kneeled in the front facing the back seat. Reaching back, I pulled the lid off of the top box. Inside was a whole case of little blue jeans, sizes 2-10! I looked inside another box; it was full of shirts to go with the jeans. Then I peeked inside some of the other boxes. There was candy and nuts and bananas and bags of groceries. There was an enormous ham for baking, and canned vegetables and potatoes. There was pudding and Jell-O and cookies, and pie filling and flour. There was a whole bag of laundry supplies and cleaning items. And there were five toy trucks and one beautiful doll. As I drove home through empty streets as the sun slowly rose on the most amazing Christmas Day of my life, I was sobbing with gratitude. And I will never forget the joy on the faces of my little ones that precious morning.
Yes, there were angels in Indiana that long-ago December, and they all hung out at the Big Wheel truck stop.
I believe that God only gives us three answers to prayer: “Yes!” “Not yet,” and “I have something better in mind.” God still sits on His throne; the devil is a liar. You may be going through a tough time right now, but God is getting ready to bless you in a way that you cannot imagine.
“Father, I ask you to bless my friends and relatives. Show them a new revelation of Your love and power. Amen.” This prayer is powerful, and prayer is one of the best gifts we receive. There is no cost but a lot of rewards. Let’s continue to pray for one another.