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The Angel from “Gunsmoke”

by Linda Van Fleet

I was returning home to Atlanta from a 1500 mile trip to visit my sister when the fan belt on my car broke on Mount Eagle, a very steep, treacherous grade near Nashville, Tennessee. I had already had so much car trouble! While in North Dakota, the heater had stopped working and had to be replaced; the day before the alternator had stopped working so the car was running on battery power. I couldn’t use the heater or the lights. I used the windshield wipers as little as possible to conserve the battery’s power. It was very cold and raining; the droplets were thick and icy. I was near broke with only enough money to buy gas for the rest of the journey to Atlanta. To make matters worse, my two young children were cold and hungry.

Then the fan belt broke.

I steered the car to the side of the road and sat staring blankly at my hands gripping the steering wheel, not knowing what to do. A sense of utter helplessness enveloped me. I looked over at my two youngsters who huddled together, questioning expressions on their faces. They trusted me. But I could tell they were afraid and cold. “Don’t worry,” I told them. “God will send someone to help us.”

Immediately a car pulled off the road in front of us and a very strange looking man got out and walked toward our car. “He looks like Festus on Gunsmoke,” my son whispered, giggling. “Shhhh!” I hissed,  fear gripping my heart as I rolled the window down a small sliver. But it was true; the man limped, wore an old, beat up cowboy hat, boots – looked, acted, talked just like the character “Festus” on the TV show, Gunsmoke (without the guns). As suddenly as it came, the fear left me.

“Need help?” the character drawled. I nodded, rolled the window down further and started to tell him what had happened. He held up his hand while I was in mid sentence and walked to the front of the car, telling me to “pop the hood.”

“Ah! here’s the trouble maker. Yer fan belt is shot.” He pulled out the broken fan belt, holding it up for me to see. I groaned. How could I buy a fan belt and pay to have it put on? How could I get to a garage? A tow truck would be expensive.

“Don’t worry!” he drawled in that Festus-like voice that causes one to laugh and shiver at the same time. As if reading my thoughts, he continued, “I just happen to have a fan belt with me.” He opened the trunk of his car and retrieved a new fan belt and replaced the bad one. By this time I had gotten out of the car and walked around to where he was working in the cold rain.

“This should get you on home,” the man said. “And if’n you’ll stop at that station right down at the foot of the mountain, they’ll boost up yerr battery for you.”

“Do you work there?” I asked, thinking I could send his payment later. “I don’t have any mon-”

“Nah,” he said, cutting me off. “But I know those people. They’ll treat you fair. I’ll follow you down. Well settle up later.”

When I got into my car, he walked around to the rear and pushed me off without me even telling him the battery was dead. I was halfway down the mountain before it occurred to me what he had said. How did he know the battery needed to be charged? How had he known to push me off? Where did he go? He didn’t come to the gas station; the people there didn’t know of whom I was speaking when I told them what had happened and described
the man. They simply charged up my battery (for free!) and sent me on my way. Who was that man?

Unanswered questions. Yet, extreme peace in my heart. I made it home to tell the story of how God sent “Festus” to my rescue when I had nowhere else to turn. Was he an angel? I think he was although I wasn’t aware of it at the time.  He didn’t look like an angel.  The Word of God tells me, “Be not forgetful to entertain strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares.” (Hebrews 13:2).

How I thank God for sending this strange looking character who reminded my children and me of the television character, Festus, on Gunsmoke.

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