My family and I had traveled out of town on an unplanned trip. It was just before the holidays which made it even worse. It was three weeks before Christmas, and a week and a half spent out of town. The family emergency was finally behind us, and the girls finally had a chance to settle in and get comfortable, if sitting in a van for the next three to four hours was considered comfortable. All we could think about was getting home and sleeping in our own beds. The laundry, unanswered phone messages, mail and newspapers would all be there in the morning. We were finally heading home.
It was a Friday evening, just past 7:00 pm, and we would be home in plenty of time to make sure everything was ready for Jenna's birthday party, the following day. It was to be Jenna's first real birthday party with all her friends.
Bowling and pizza, cake and ice cream, twelve screaming nine year old girls who did not care one bit about bowling.
As we got onto the highway the snow flakes were like large wet leaves slamming into the front windshield. The forecast had called for a clear night so we were not worried.
We were almost thirty miles into the trip and suddenly a loud grinding noise woke the girls. We were still moving, but much slower. The snow was falling harder now and the wind had picked up considerably. We had just passed an exit sign and it said that the next stop was in fifteen miles. Fifteen miles? Would the van make it? It was now the only thing on our minds. We had planned to stop and eat along the way if the girls woke up. Mommy, I'm hungry, can we stop? Daddy, I have to go potty! Great, I thought, the nap was over and we were nowhere near a place to stop.
It seemed more than fifteen miles but, we knew we were close when high above us, in the darkness of the night, through the heavy snowfall, a faint yellow glow in the shape of an 'M'. Yes! The golden arches, a friendly sight. McDonald's was now my favorite restaurant in the entire world. As we pulled into the parking lot, it was now 8:30 pm.
The girls were deciding what they were going to eat. That gave us time to contemplate what to do. Do we take a chance and nurse the van home, or stay the night and get the van looked at in the morning. Staying the night would definitely turn into a weekend with auto shops closed until Monday. Jenna would be so disappointed. What should we do? What we needed was a tow truck. Was this even an option? As I approached the counter to order, my husband went out to the van to see if it would run any better. As I turned to scan the parking lot, I could not believe what I saw. A flat bed tow truck and it was empty. It was one of those fancy new ones, the kind with an extended cab, so you could pick up more then one stranded person. It said Adam's Towing in big gold letters. By this time my husband was back inside, and just as amazed. We scanned the restaurant; it wasn't hard to figure out who was driving it.
As we sat down to eat, my husband approached the man who was at the order counter. "Excuse me, Mr. Adam's how would you like to take on a job?" There was a short pause, and then the man turned around. He was a tall slender black man with a beard not shaven in days. He wore a pair of old black leather gloves with holes in most of the finger tips and worn out palms, his black Army boots to match, gray wool cap, and a long green Army issued field jacket. The jacket had seen better days. The cuffs were frayed and faded gold sergeant stripes sewn on the left arm with red thread. The name tag above the right hand chest pocket read L.MOSES. There was an 82nd Airborne patch sewn on the right shoulder and a tarnished brass US Army lapel button.
With a tired chuckle he said to my husband "I'm not Mr. Adam's", and turned around. As I turned to the girls I noticed they were gone. In a panic, I scanned the restaurant; Jenna was standing next to my husband and Leah was in his arms. They both had on big smiles and said hello to L. Moses and proceeded to ask Dad if they could have an apple pie. As L.Moses turn away with his large coffee, Leah, our 4 year old asked, "Hey mister, would you like an apple pie?" With a tired smile he responded "No thank you".
L. Moses went and sat down with only a cup of coffee keeping him in his seat. My husband thought, one more try. "Hey, how about that job?" "Where to?" he asked as he looked over his newspaper. "Buffalo", my husband said. "NEW YORK?" As the paper hit the table in disbelief. "Yea, Buffalo, New York" "You're kidding right? A glance at the paper, and a pause, "let me make a call".
As L.Moses dialed the payphone, we thought, that there was no way this that guy is going to drive 250 miles in this weather. He soon walked over to us, we braced ourselves. "200 hundred bucks, just let me finish my coffee", he said.
Before we knew it, the van was chained down. We stopped and gassed up at the local gas station. The girls and I were in the cab of the truck ready to doze off. My husband sat up front as the navigator.
Lawrence is what my husband calls a true American hero. He is a proud veteran of the Vietnam War. He was a man who earned two Purple Heart medals in the jungles of South East Asia. A man willing to give his life for the freedom we have. He is a man who was spat on and called a baby killer by his own people. He was a man who was driving a tow truck probably for the same reason he wore his colors proud. One could understand if there was some resentment, some anger, a sense of isolation we felt at the McDonald's. At first, he was just a man who wanted to be left alone.
Lawrence was a proud husband and father, with a passion for his faith. A gold crucifix occasionally clanged against his Army dog tags. He told us, "If you want to know who I am, just look at the tags. If you want to know what I stand for, just look at the cross". It was a crucifix that his wife gave him the day he left for Vietnam, and has never taken it off.
We had asked each other questions about food and ethnic backgrounds, holidays, music, movies and just about everything in between. Before we knew it, we were only 30 miles from home, and still there was one burning question. Why? Why did Lawrence Moses of Cleveland, Ohio, drive 250 miles one way to Buffalo, New York, in the middle of winter to bring home a stranded family, for 200 dollars? As we neared our final destination, I asked Lawrence, why? He told us this.
The 200 dollars was going into his pocket. He never called his boss to see if he could take the job. He told us his boss, Mr. Adam's would tell him he was nuts, and would not understand that a little girl was going to miss her birthday party if he did not take us home.
So he was doing it for that. But that was not the main reason. He was taking us home because Jenna and Leah were not afraid of him at McDonald's. They smiled, said hello to man there dad was talking to, and offered him a piece of apple pie. They did not care he was black, or what he was dressed like. He said he does not see much of that in today's world and he thanked us for teaching and raising our children the right way. He told us "I haven't felt that in a long time".
Our van was now unloaded from the tow truck, it was time to say good bye. The kids were awake and it was good to be home. Without saying a word, the kids hugged Mr. Moses, and thanked him. Before they went into the house, Lawrence gave Jenna an envelope and Leah a pack of gum.
My husband paid Lawrence, the girls and I came back out to the truck with an extra 50 dollars for gas and a small gift. Leah gave it to Lawrence, and said "Merry Christmas Mr. Moses, Merry Christmas". Then Jenna said "open it Mr. Moses, open it". Lawrence opened it. It was a pair of black leather gloves I had bought for my husband. They fit perfect.
We wished each other a Merry Christmas and Lawrence started on his long journey home. As we sat at the kitchen table Jenna gave me the envelope that Lawrence had given to her. It said JENNA written across the front, and had an oily thumb print.
Jenna opened it and it read "Happy Birthday to a Wonderful Angel". Inside the simple words "God Bless You, L.Moses".
We finally went to bed; the clock read 1:30 am.