Ol' Stack And His Angels

As I was driving up the highway toward Dayton I saw an old man walking along the road. It was raining quite hard so, against my better judgment, I stopped and asked him if he needed a ride. “Hey mister, want a lift?” I shouted from the window, while trying to keep the rain out.

“Sure do, thanks a million son. That rain has chilled me to the bone.” the man said. “The name’s Stack, I’m heading to New Orleans.

“Well Mr. Stack, you’re heading in the wrong direction. I’m heading north toward Dayton. Are you lost?” I asked.

“First of all it’s not Mr. Stack, it’s just Stack. And no I’m not lost. I am heading to New Orleans but first I have to go up to Cleveland to see my wife and baby.”

“Baby?” I thought. Stack had to be at least seventy years old. He was quite thin but fit looking. His soaking wet hair was totally white, his left arm was scarred. It looked like it had been badly burned. “Cleveland, I’m not going that far but I can take you as far as Dayton. Are your wife and baby waiting for you?” I asked.

“I’d like to think they are.” he said with a chuckle. “I’ll stay with them just a little while before heading to New Orleans. I have to get down there to see my sister. She is old and not in good health. I’d better see her while I can. You know what I mean?”

“I know what you mean.” I replied. “Why were you walking, you didn’t even have your thumb out like most hitchhikers do.

“Well, I haven’t owned a car for years,” he said. “I don’t have much of anything anymore. I’ve lost pretty much everything really.” He turned his head toward the side window as he said that. “I don’t think about it anymore, don’t think about much of anything anymore. Except the wife and baby. I figured someone would eventually stop and pick me up.”

I wondered what it was that he didn’t think about. “May I ask you Stack, are we talking about a little baby, or a grown child?”

“Six and a half years old, an angel, like her mother.” he said. “Her name’s Debbie and the wife’s name is Mona. A fine woman, the best a man could ask for. They’re both Angels.”

Stack and I talked awhile, listened to the radio awhile, then talked some more. I wondered about the baby.

“This is a nice car, son. I wish I could afford one like this. Money’s hard to come by these days,” he said. “I try to pick up odd jobs whenever I can, every penny helps. I do get my Social Security. I figure that’s due me, after all I paid into it for nearly fifty years.”

“You know there are places that help people when they need a little help, just for a while, it could happen to anyone. And in your situation, well if you made a few calls you…” He cut me off in mid sentence.

“I’ve never believed an able body man should take something for nothing” he said while looking right at me. “ I just wouldn’t feel right. If it’s right by some people that’s fine. It’s just not right by me, OK?”

“Sure, I understand, I didn’t mean anything by it.” I assured him. I realized what a proud man Stack was, I admired him for that.

We pulled into a rest stop just south of Dayton, and headed to the men’s room. After doing our business, I bought a cup of coffee from a vending machine while Stack headed back toward the car. I drank my coffee, sat for a while, then went back to the car. I got in and saw Stack sitting there with a bouquet of wild daisies, tucked into an old Coke bottle. “I picked these around back, thought my girls would like them.” he said with a smile.

“You know I’ll be letting you off in a little while, and it’s a long way to Cleveland. A long way.” I said while looking at the flowers. “Do you think those flowers will make it?

“Yea, you’re right. I’ll be lucky to find a ride going all the way there. Just leave me here at the rest stop. It’s almost dark and I can sleep on one of the benches. Then I’ll find a ride in the morning.”

I got the feeling that he had done this sort of thing before. “You can’t do that. It’s dangerous to sleep out here“. I started the car and headed back onto the highway.

“I’ll tell you what,” I said, “I will drive you to Cleveland but you will have to do me a favor. I’ve got a place in Dayton. I need someone to help me clear several dead pine trees from the property. Have you ever used a chainsaw?”

He laughed and said, “I was using chainsaws before you were born son, I’ve cut down enough trees to build Noah a second ark.”

“O.K.” I said. “We’ll get started tomorrow.” Ten minutes later we pulled into the driveway of the Dayton property. It had stopped raining. I went inside and warmed up two cans of chili. Stack waited outside, checking out the dead trees.

“Here you go.” I said, while handing him a bowl of chili and a can of Sprite.

“Where’s yours?” he said.

“I’m going back inside to get it.” I replied.

We ate our meal on the front porch. It was dark now. “Man, that was good,” Stack said. “Do you mind if I sleep in the back seat of the car?”

“Don’t be silly, you can sleep in the house.”

“I’d rather sleep out here, if you don’t mind.”

“O.K.” I said. “Suit yourself.” I didn’t think Stack was the kind of person that you wanted to argue with.

We spent the better part of the next morning cutting down the dead pines. Stack worked like a man half his age. He didn’t say much as he worked. He was focused on the job, just as he was focused on getting to Cleveland to be with his wife and child, his "Angels" as he called them, and getting to New Orleans to see his sister. We cut the pines into pieces and left them on the ground.

“I know someone who wants this wood, I’ll call him and he can take it from here.” I told Stack. “Ready to head to Cleveland?”

“Let’s go!” he said. “Then I’ve got to get to New Orleans, remember?”

We were back on the road within twenty minutes. Me with a can of Sprite and Stack with his bouquet of wild daisies in a Coke bottle.

“So, where in Cleveland are we headed?” I asked the old man.

“Gate Of Heaven is the name of it,” Stack told me.

I laughed at the name. “Gate of Heaven, that sounds like a cemetery,” I said with a grin.

He looked at me kind of funny and said, “It is a cemetery, where did you think we were going?” I was confused. “I thought you understood when I told you they were angles that they were no longer alive,” Stack explained to me. “They died in the fire. Our home went up in flames in 1974. I tried to save them but I couldn’t. I would trade places with them now if I could.”

I was shocked. When Stack said they were angels I thought it was just a figure of speech. Like saying they were sweet. I had no idea that he meant they were dead.

“I’m so sorry, I completely misunderstood,” I said to him.

As we headed north toward the cemetery he told me a story of how a small chimney fire turned into a large blaze. It happened about one o’clock in the morning. Stack came home from his second shift job and found their house on fire. He ran to the front door and unlocked it. He pushed it open and saw flames everywhere. He had to make it upstairs to the bedrooms. He tried to go up the stairs. The smoke was too thick, the air too hot. He couldn’t see, he couldn’t breathe. He pulled back for a few seconds and then tried again. And then again. The flames were too much, his shirt caught fire, then his pants caught fire. He called their names but could hear nothing but the crackling and roaring of the fire. He had to give up, there was nothing he could do. He

kept calling their names. “Mona, Debbie, I’m here, I’m here. Don’t worry. I’m here.” But there was nothing he could do. He had to give up. The flames had beat him. He said that the fire was the first thing in his life that had ever beat him.

The fire department showed up, but it was too late to save anything. The house was burned beyond repair. The bodies were recovered the next morning. Stack was taken to the hospital with third degree burns on his left arm and legs.

We pulled into the cemetery. “Over there,” he said, while pointing to the right. We drove about fifty more yards, then got out of the car. “Right there,” he said. I took about ten steps then saw the granite headstone. STACKLY was carved into the top of the huge stone. On the right side of the stone was carved his wife’s name, Mona, with her birth and death dates. In the middle of the stone was carved the child’s name, Debbie, with birth and death dates. On the left side of the stone was carved his name, Thomas. Stack’s name was Thomas Stackly, I was glad to know his full name. I was glad to know him. His birth date was the only date on his side of the stone. He stood there for several minutes then leaned over and put the Coke bottle bouquet of daisies against the stone. He had tears in his eyes. I could see that he was still heartbroken after all those years. He whispered something but I couldn’t hear what he said. He touched their carved names in the stone.

“This is where I’ll be buried someday,” he said, “with my two angels.”

“Are you ready?” he asked. “I’ve got a long way to go to get to my sister in New Orleans.”

“Ready to go, you mean? We can stay here as long as you like.” I assured him.

He touched the headstone again an then said, “Let’s go. You will give me a ride back as far as Dayton, won’t you?”

“You know I will, Thomas Stackly,” I said. As we pulled away I looked into the rear view mirror and saw the Coke bottle daisies leaning against the granite headstone. "Hey, you know what I was just thinking?"

"What?" asked ol' Stack.

"I was just thinking about how much I'd like to see New Orleans."

Stack looked at me, smiled, and focused on our long trip ahead.


                                  A Scarey Story

 What I am about to tell you I have never before told anyone , because I know that no one would believe me. The story begins on Halloween night when I was eleven years old. A few of my friends and I were trick-or-treating in the neighborhood where we lived, ringing doorbells and holding out our paper bags waiting for the treats to be deposited. Lollypops, caramels, bubble gum, and minature chocolate bars were filling our sacks. We were having a good time when we decided to go to the other side of our small town and try our luck over there. We had heard that one residence over there was giving out large popcorn balls as treats. We wanted some of that action.

     We did not know that part of town very well, but we did recognize most of the streets. Main, Oak, and Second Streets, Jefferson Alley, we walked them all begging for treats. One street seemed darker than the others that October night, looked a little spooky too. It even had a spooky name, Snakeskin Hollow Road. Our imiginations ran wild when we saw the street sign. Snakeskin Hollow Road, none of us little goblins had ever heard of the road before. Visions of witches, headless horsemen, and other horrors entered our heads.  All of the houses on that road were dark, I should say all but one. The house at the end of the road had a porch light on and a jack-o-lantern smiling from the tree stump in the front yard. We walked straight toward that house, hopeing that it was the one with the popcorn ball treats. As we approached the house we noticed what poor condition it was in. It was old, very old. One of the shutters on an upstairs window was dangling, ready to fall off. The house had almost no paint left on it, and what was left would flake off when you touched it. A spooky house on a spooky road, it was indeed. We were all a little afraid, but of course would not admit it.

     There was no doorbell, we knocked on the door. Immediately the door began to open. It made a creaking sound, just like spooky houses in the movies make. An old, stooped over lady appeared, looked right at us and whispered  "I've been waiting for you boys."  Waiting for us?  Did she know we were comming?  My heart was pounding. "Trick-or-treat" we said in unison, barely able to get out the words. Those words  "I've been waiting for you boys"  stuck in my head. I had one foot planted, waiting for the treat, and the other foot ready to take off running.

     The old lady took something out of the worn apron she was wearing and put it in the bottom of my sack. Then, without saying anything, she nodded in our direction, closed the door, and turned out the porch light. A second or two later the candle in the jack-o-lantern flickered for the last time and then went out. I believe that we were her first, and only, visiters that night. She did not put anything into the other boys sacks, just mine. I was scared to death.

     We all took off running, ran all the way back to Jefferson Alley, where we huddled under the safety of a street light.  "See what she put in your bag" the other boys were saying. "What did she give you?"  Well, I was willing to bet right then and there that it wasn't a popcorn ball.

     I set the bag down trying to get up the courage to look inside.  Then the bag started to move. Just a little at first. Then it started to move like there was something inside, something trying to get out. A bird, a large black crow. It came out of the bag, flew up, and landed on the street sign. The crow looked right at us, seemed to nod its head, then flew away.  But here is the strangest part of the whole story. Each one of us boys swore that we heard the crow say something as it flew away. I honestly believe that I heard it say  "I've been waiting for you boys."   That was the last year I ever went trick-or-treating.


"I've been waiting for you boys," said the crow. 

This is the house on Snakeskin Hollow Road. 



Then it Was Tuesday - (a dream) 


Falling asleep, Monday night, I began to dream. I dreamed of a fiddle player, of one hundred balloons, and of a garden of daisies. Smack dab in the middle of the daisies grew a purple rose. I had never seen a purple rose before. It just didn’t seem right. I was captivated by the purple rose, but as I looked at it, it turned into a red rose. Oh yes, that was better, a red rose was a familiar sight. I’ve seen thousands of red roses. Each of the daisies seemed to face toward the one red rose, just like a sunflower will face the sun. Then the red rose turned to purple again. Then to red, then to purple again. What was happening? I stirred in my sleep, wanting to wake up, but wanting to stay asleep. You know that feeling, don’t you? The fiddle player started to play, he played “Amazing Grace” I love that song. The rose continued to change colors, red, purple, yellow, pink, white, orange, it kept changing colors. It was such a beautiful rose, in fact it was a perfect rose, no matter what color it changed to. The daisies looked up, then down, they looked left, they looked right, they looked confused. I too was confused. “You may say I’m a dreamer,” the fiddle played said. “But I’m not the only one. I hope one day you’ll join us, and the world will live as one.” The musician recited those words as he played his fiddle. I recognized the words as those of a popular song. “Imagine all the people sharing all the world.” The fiddle player said those words as he played a completely different song.

I was still dreaming, and in my dream I knew that I was dreaming. The garden of daisies turned into roses, and the rose turned into a hundred daisies. The balloons floated into the sky, and I was glad that I was dreaming. “ I have a dream.” “I have a dream.” I kept hearing those words. “I have a dream.” “Doesn’t everyone have a dream,” I thought to myself. I guess it’s the content of the dream that counts. The fiddle player played. As he played he shouted, “When you ain’t got nothin’, you’ve got nothin’ to lose.” I‘ve heard those words before, in a song. “You’re invisible now, you’ve got no secrets to conceal.” he sang. I tried to wake up, I couldn’t. The balloons floated up toward the stars, and so did I. Yes, so did I. I floated so high that everything below looked so small. Everything looked like little dots on a blue ball. I floated toward the stars. Everything below looked the same, except for the fiddle player, who was now wearing a complete suit of armor. The kind of armor a medieval knight would wear. He stood out like a sore thumb. I kept dreaming. He kept playing, in his suit of armor. Every song he played was a favorite of mine, every one. He knew all of my favorites. The one hundred balloons were suddenly punctured by the points of a twinkling yellow star. The pointed star popped the balloons, all of them. They fell to the earth, and so did I. I fell right next to the garden of daises. The fiddle player played, the rose changed colors again. Changed to sort of a rainbow color. I was not hurt by the fall. In fact I felt better by the fall, and so did the busted balloons. I was back on the ground, safe and sound. The fiddle player continued playing, the rose and daisies were so happy that they grew about two inches, maybe three. "I’ll let you be in my dream if I can be in yours," I heard one say to the other, or maybe the other said to one. The balloons fell to the ground about a foot from me, and then the twinkling star fell right next to the balloons. They all said “I have a dream.” I said “So what? I’m having a dream right now, and you are in it!” Then I awoke. I looked around. There were no balloons, no daisies, not a rose of any color, nothing. The fiddle player was gone. No twinkling stars. I was awake. My favorite songs no longer played. It was Tuesday, just another day.


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