I was five years old and strapped tightly in between two unbuckled men. Both men smelled like work. Not that smelly, b.o. kind of work, but the kind of work that smells like fall, earth, coffee and tractors.
We were just getting ready for an evening of thanksgiving leftovers (a night that had grown to be just as treasured as Thanksgiving itself) when my dad remembered that he needed to put a couple extra bales of hay out for a few of the milking cows on our farm which was located a few miles away from my grandparent’s house. My grandpa volunteered to go with him. They quickly asked if I wanted to go and though the smell of the reheated stuffing, turkey and mashed potatoes were making my stomach roar, I nodded enthusiastically.
I loved riding in that truck with my dad and grandpa. It clunked and bounced indestructibly through even the biggest holes in the road or field. Its engine roared and rattled everything in the car when shifting between first and third gears, and if you had coffee sitting in the cup-holder between the shifting of first and second gear, it was going to be spilled.
We had just soared over my favorite hill on the way back to my grandpa’s house and my stomach was still wheeling from the joy of that thrill, when my Grandfather and my Dad stopped talking. My dad downshifted and my grandfather’s hand stopped me from lunging forward as the truck slowed to a stationary idle in the middle of the gravel road at the bottom of the hill. I stretched my neck to see why we had stopped. I thought a stray cow or a deer might be the culprit since that sort of thing happened a lot where we lived. I couldn’t see anything at first and my dad didn’t honk like he usually did. The truck idled unevenly and my dad shifted to neutral and pressed the parking brake.
“Oh, what is this?” My dad said, annoyed.
“Awe, they’ll get out of the road in a second,” my grandpa Wayne responded and spit a stream of tobacco into a Styrofoam cup.
“I don’t know, Wayne. Maybe I better do something. That one old boy’s got a crowbar and he looks like he’s about to..."
“Hooo!” grandpa said and winced as if he himself had been hit.
“Yeah, he whacked him pretty good,” my dad sighed. "I'll be back in a second."
“Patrick…” said my Grandfather, preparing to warn my dad.
But before my grandpa could say, “be careful” it was too late; my dad was out of the truck and slamming the door behind him. I squirmed out of the seatbelt and peeked as far as I could over the dashboard.
My dad casually walked towards the two men in the middle of the road. Both men were bearded and looked about the same age as my Dad (in his thirties). One was small and skinny and was crawling on the ground while the bigger one was hitting him with a crowbar as he crawled.
Then came my Dad. I asked my Grandpa who they were and what my dad was going to do but my Grandpa simply spit again into his cup and said nothing. His eyes were glued to my dad as he approached the two men.
The headlights shone on the scene with a harsh and unapologetic light and I was suddenly scared for my dad. My dad started to talk to the man with the crowbar and the man yelled something at my dad and pointed towards our truck. I couldn’t hear anything else because the truck was idling so loud. While my dad continued to motion for the men to just let us pass, the man with the crowbar saw the other man on the ground trying to crawl away, and the man with the crowbar kicked the crawling man and reared his crowbar back for another whack.
My dad intervened. His hand caught the crowbar before it struck the crawling man and the larger man yanked it back. Then the big man took several wild swipes at my dad with the crowbar. I was surprised at how quick my dad was. It seemed like something he had done before.
“Well, sheeit,” my grandpa said and put his spit-cup on the dashboard. Just when my Grandfather put his other hand on the door handle to get out, my dad caught the swinging crowbar again, and for a few seconds it was a crowbar-tug-of war. Finally my dad gave a good yank and and the man lunged forward, spreading his legs as he struggled. Without pause, my dad kicked the man in the groin with his dirty, steel-toed work-boot. The man wailed, released his grip on the crowbar and crouched slowly to the ground.
My dad shook his head and threw the crowbar as hard as he could into the dark field that stretched to the left of us. Then, as if it was another chore on the farm, my dad grabbed the crouching man by the coat collar and the back of his jeans. He hoisted the man like a big sack of potatoes, drug him (somewhat gently) to the curb, and softly lobbed him out of the dirt road and into the shallow, grassy ditch, where the other man had crawled while my dad fought his assailant.
The beaten man took a last kick at my dad as he walked away from the grassy ditch, and my dad turned and pointed towards the house where the two men had probably started their fight. People where coming from the house and my dad motioned the approaching people to where the two men lay.
My dad opened the truck door and sat down in the driver’s seat.
My grandpa grabbed his spit-cup and shook his head in amazement.
“Well I’ll be durned, Patrick. Lord help the man who comes between you and your dinner,” he laughed and spit.
My Dad grinned and winked at my Grandpa and me. He revved the engine a few times, crammed the gear shifter into first gear, said, “Let’s eat,” and let off the clutch.
The next day, with a bible in his hand, my dad went and saw the two men. Within the hour, my dad knelt with the two men in the front yard, not 30 feet from where they had all been fighting over a crowbar the night before.
Both burly men were saved. The two burly brothers hugged and wept. Their anger gone, their souls saved. All thanks to God's saving grace woking through a leftover Thanksgiving dinner and an ex-marine-turned-Baptist-minister's hunger for it.