Tuesday, December 09, 2003

Hebron Crossroads 12-14-03
By Jeff Gill

Jose and Maria were heading down I-70 towards Wheeling when the old grey Buick Riviera they drove started to overheat.

The cold December night suddenly felt a little more threatening (with the heater not working well, a problem you didn’t notice much in Del Rio through the summer). They were heading to the home of a family member in Steubenville who had a good job for them both, which was really important since their first-born was due soon, roundly visible between the shoulder and lap belt Maria wore.

So Jose reluctantly turned off at the next exit. He didn’t have much cash on him, just his ATM card, which he hated to use more than he had to. Thinking that getting some work done under the hood would be cheaper away from the interstate, he drove past the bright lights of the truck stops and newer hotels, and headed down the road.

They started to feel nervous as they realized both that it was later than they thought, and that there was no large town just off the way. At the next intersection, they saw a closed lumberyard, a few darkened buildings, and relatively few homes. Jose turned right, paralleling their original direction, hoping to find a town, a garage, somewhere reassuring.

Of course it was a dark stretch of road where the engine emitted a “pop” and a sighing wheeze, and red lights punctuated the dashboard behind the wheel Jose struggled to turn onto the shoulder.

Maria gasped with fright, as suddenly in the silence and within the beam of headlights they saw a headstone right in front of them. “Are we in a cemetery?” she asked. Then they saw the arc of “Cumberland” across the top, and Jose said “I think it’s an old milestone on this road; something historic.”

They could just see the glow ahead of some crossroads, and were considering how to bundle up for a walk over the hill and down to whatever lay ahead, when a loud, low, long rumble started to shake the car, and lights shone from behind.

A line of motorcycles rolled past them, divided in front of them, and stopped on both sides of the road. One bright headlight turned back, bumped along the gravel, and pulled up to the driver side window. Jose rolled the crank back about half a turn.

Out of the darkness behind the light, with a creak of leather, a head turned and spoke. “You guys are on the wrong side of the road looking lost. Everything OK?”

Jose answered, “The engine died and I was losing the power steering.”

“Yep, that’s what I thought. This is some old mule of a car; don’t know about finding parts tonight for you. Now if it were a Harley, we’d probably be able to fix you up out of our saddlebags.”

“Who are you guys?” asked Maria.

“Just a bunch of guys out on a poker run, ma’am,” he answered, swinging off the bike to stand by the car. As he turned, Jose saw a blazon on the back of his leather jacket, with gothic letters in a scroll across symbols below, saying “The Nolo Contenderes.”

“Nolo. . .Say, you guys aren’t. . .” Jose trailed off.

“Yeah,” the dark figure said sheepishly, “we’re a bunch of lawyers. That’s the name of our, uh, group. We ride most Fridays if the Bucks aren’t playing. You must know Latin, Mr.?”
“My name’s Jose, this is my wife Maria.” Hands were shaken through a now lowered window. “Actually, we have family just two hours down the road who’ll come and get us, but I hadn’t gotten out my cell phone before you showed up.”

It took very little discussion to realize that, whatever was wrong, thermostat or head gasket, the Buick wasn’t going anywhere, and Maria was in no mood to straddle a passenger seat on a big bike. While Jose contacted Steubenville, a huddle among the “Nolos” ended with everyone back in a circle on the roadside.

“We can probably get someone to come back up here with a car pretty quick,” said the leader through his brushy mustache. “There’s a dance down at the catering hall over the next hill we were dropping by. Meanwhile, we can’t leave you here in the cold; but across the way I know a guy whose house probably has security on it, but I can get you inside their barn full of straw. You can nestle down in that until we get back.”

“So how do you know how to break into buildings, Mr. Lawyer?” asked Jose with a smile.

“Some clients pay in cash, others barter by teaching useful life skills,” answered “Mr. Contendere.” “I could ask you how you speak English so well, Jose; no offense meant.”

“No offense taken,” answered Jose, his smile now a mix of pride and amusement. “Some of my family may do migrant labor that brought us up to Ohio years ago, but some of my family lives on land in New Mexico they have the deed to, marked 1616.”

“Before Plymouth Rock,” nodded the lawyer, swinging back onto his Harley. “Funny how most people’s stories aren’t what you’d think ‘til you let them tell it. Well, keep your story right here in this barn for a bit more, and we’ll be right back. Louie and his wife had four chili dogs and a bag of batter-dip fries they got at the last stop on the poker run and hadn’t opened, so stay close, stay warm, and eat up. We’ll have you somewhere better soon, I promise.”

As he revved the engine at the barn door, he hollered to Maria and Jose, “And when we get you to a better room and a friendly crowd, I can’t wait to tell you the story of how we came to stop right there by ya; you’re not gonna believe it!”

“Oh, tonight I’d believe about anything,” Jose said inaudibly as two other bikers slid the door shut from their cycle seats and roared off.

And of course it was just then, in the dimness of the moonlight filtering down from the window in the hayloft, that Maria squeezed his hand and said nervously, “Dear, I think the baby is coming.”

May your Christmas at the Hebron Crossroads be wonderful, mysterious, and joyful this year of Our Lord Two thousand and three! Next week, Christmas week special services; call 928-4066 or e-mail disciple@voyager.net with details.

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for the Dec. 21 Community Booster Christmas Traditions --

From Jeff Gill at the Hebron Crossroads: “Each year, after we bake our cookies from flour we’ve ground in our own handmill, and when we finish painting the toys I’ve carved out of wood naturally fallen to the ground from ancient oak trees, we sit around Joyce playing Advent tunes on her dulcimer, with the Little Guy coloring in the angels on the border of our Christmas letters. . .um, wait. That’s what we dream about after eating too much store-bought cookie dough right before another too-late bedtime.

It will come as no surprise that for a pastor’s family, we focus through December on the church celebrations of the season with children’s musicals and choir cantatas and candlelight Christmas Eve planning and preparation, plus the extra work we all get together at Hebron Christian Church to do for food pantries, housing programs, and needy families. Years ago, I used to feel more that we “didn’t get” as much chance for Christmas observance as others, but what I’ve really gotten into is the ancient idea of “Christmastide,” the celebration that is dimly recalled in “The Twelve Days of Christmas.” From Christmas day on the 25th to Jan. 6th, or Epiphany, while the stores tear down all the tinsel and trappings, and the decor shifts to Valentine’s red on the 26th, we can count down to the visit of the Magi (which is what Epiphany marks), keep the music celebrating Christ’s birth playing, and bake the cookies and do the things that others did back in the “Holiday Season.” And did I mention clergy are infamous for sending Epiphany cards more than Christmas cards? The colors of the church vestments go from royal purple to celebration white, and we get to sing the carols while radio stations have gone back to playing the top 40 and see the tree as a symbol of new life instead of a rack for ornaments on sale. Now if we could just bring back Boxing Day, as well. . .”