This is not my story. But it was told to me by an old man who lived it.
The year is 1987. Rural Alabama. Our main character is a young kid. He’s at a remote gas station. He tries to start his car, but it’s a no go. The car is deader than disco.
So he’s sitting on the hood of his ‘73 Piece Of Junkola when an old guy at the next pump notices there’s something odd about this kid.
Namely, the kid is wearing a tux.
The old guy is wearing a cowboy hat. There is a horse trailer attached to his Ford. There are horses in the trailer, on their way to a rodeo.
The old guy is in a hurry. He has to be in Missouri by tomorrow, or else they’ll dock his pay. He knows he should leave the gas station now, without asking questions. Because questions lead to “things,” and the old man doesn’t have time for extra “things.”
But, as I say, the kid is in a tux.
So the old guy asks a question.
The kid tells him yes, and he says he knows it’s the alternator. He had planned on getting it fixed, but he didn’t have the money. So he has been driving his Crap Mobile around town. But tonight was, evidently, the night the car went to be with Jesus.
“Why are you in a tux?” the old guy asks.
“Because I’m the best man.”
“Best at what?”
“It’s a wedding. My brother’s getting married.”
The kid looks like he is about to cry.
The sun is setting. The Alabama countryside never looked so green. In the air, the smell of horse turds.
“Where’s the church?” the man asks.
“MOBILE?!” The man laughs.
The kid buries his face in his hands.
“Do you have anyone you can call? Anyone who will give you a ride that far?”
The kid shakes his head. His family all lives in Mobile. He is only living in this one-horse town because of his job. He hasn’t lived here long enough to make friends.
“My brother has Down syndrome,” the kid explains. “He has a lot of health problems. None of us were sure he’d ever even want to get married, after all he’s been through. But he found a great girl, and now he’s walking down the aisle, and I’m going to miss it.”
The man jingles the change in his pockets.
“When’s the wedding?” the man asks.
The kid looks at his watch. “Two hours.”
They waste no time. Within seconds, the man has a tuxedo riding in his passenger seat. And he is heading south.
Midway through the trip, the kid asks, “You haul horses for a living?”
“Well, I USED to.”
The sun begins to lower. Eventually, the world outside their windows turns to saltwater. They are soon crossing through the Bankhead Tunnel.
The kid is now falling all over himself, saying, “I’ll never be able to repay you.”
“Don’t worry about it,” the old man says.
“You don’t know what this means to me.”
“And I don’t care.”
When they arrive at the church, there are eighteen minutes to spare. The kid shakes the old man’s hand with both of his. He removes his wallet and offers to pay for gas.
The old man removes his wallet instead.
Inside the old man’s billfold is a photograph. A young man in the photo has severe Down syndrome.
The air goes silent.
The kid says, “Who is that?”
“That’s my son,” the old man says.
“Where is your son today?”
The old man simply smiles and wipes his eye. “Just tell your brother I said congratulations.”
Sean Dietrich is a columnist and novelist known for his commentary on life in the American South. He has authored nine books and is the creator of the “Sean of the South” blog and podcast. The views and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the policy or position of 1819 News. To comment, please send an email with your name and contact information to [email protected].
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