Rendered Fat Content


Vincent Van Gogh: Self-portrait-with bandaged ear (1889)
"I pray we could all be so lucky."

A well-weathered Truck Repair sign appeared on our left as we entered the tiny crossroads town of Biggs, Oregon, dragging what was left of Elizabeth's (our SecondCar) front engine splash guard, which had been rudely torn loose by a traffic cone thrown up by the semi-truck traveling just ahead of us forty miles back. That splash guard, a PVC plate intended to protect delicate under engine parts from road splash, had finally broken loose with a disturbing clatter ten miles earlier. We'd pulled onto the freeway verge to find the guard hanging my a single connector. The Muse suggested that if we just kept driving, it might fall off all by itself, and after considering our location, we agreed to slowly continue our journey. We were nearly ten miles from the tinier town of Rufus, which might have a mechanic. At slowed freeway speed with fourways flashing, the plate seemed capable of floating above the road surface so we rattled into Rufus, but found no mechanic waiting. I took this opportunity to limp down one of the few remaining sections of the original Columbia River Highway toward Biggs, where, I reasoned, a mechanic might await our arrival, since, as the name implies, it was Biggs, small but bigger. As we entered the town, that sign appeared.

I slowed and turned off onto a rough gravel side road, dragging that plate once it lost lift as we slowed our speed.
A large aluminum pole building sat on the hilltop ahead with another Truck Repair sign calling. Another sign warned Gate Ahead, followed by another warning Gated Closed At 5PM. I thought, a perfect place for an ambush. We were, after all, in Eastern Oregon, hardly a hideout for liberals like one finds in Portland or Eugene, or even Bend, so recently gentrified by fleeing Californians. No, Biggs sits firmly in rimrock country, rough and windswept, untamed and proud, beat down yet defiant. I was born in this part of the state, by forebears having arrived too late to claim the Eden at The End Of The Oregon Trail, they settled for somewhat less, a waterless section on top of a two thousand foot basalt cap on an aptly-named prominence called Hail Ridge. They exemplified hardscrabble and survived their ordeal, as I stand as witness. I'd long ago left this country, my folks gratefully moving into gentler territory, but my birth records attest that I was born there, and not just some passing liberal. Still, decades of living in what I considered better country had left me with a somewhat superior air and a little afraid of what I was fairly certain we'd find in that pole building up there. I felt like I was in an obscure old Hitchcock movie, driving myself toward a regrettable destiny, dragging that PVC plate beneath me.

I parked behind a fat-assed dually, of course, the diesel-powered vehicle of choice in my imagined notions of the prototypical Eastern Oregonian. Two unmasked mechanics in dark cotton jumpsuits peered into the engine cavity of an enormous semi-truck wrecker, wrenches in hand. As I entered wearing my prissy white mask, one mechanic asked what I was dragging there while the other motioned for me to just pull Elizabeth inside the garage. Another cohort came out to peek beneath Elizabeth to check, he said, whether I'd lose the plate should I back up, but I easily slipped around the pickup and entered the garage. One mechanic knelt down and looked under before walking back to his tool chest to grab a socket wrench. In about a minute, he'd freed the plate and was handing it to me along with the sole remaining sheet metal screw that had been holding it in place. "You might be able to reinstall this," he opined, though its mangled condition suggested that if I did reinstall it, a sound not unlike a playing card clothes-pinned into bicycle spokes would forever after accompany our travels. I asked how much for their trouble, and they both laughed off my question. "Have a good weekend," they replied dismissing us to continue our trip.

SettlingInto this country means that we've embraced more diversity than we found in our Homeowner Association Governed, essentially gated community back in Colorado. Walla Walla always was remarkable for its diversity, if not racial, then economic. On Pleasant Street, where I grew up, a lawyer lived two doors up the street and a railroad mechanic two doors down. A row of three small rental houses abutted my folks' property, and a doctor owned the pasture and house just behind us. My dad worked at the post office. I still grew up with my prejudices, learning to look down upon cousins who lived in windier and weedier littler towns. I always cringed a little inside when we returned to rimrock country to visit distant relatives, as evidenced, I guess, by my discomfort with seeking assistance in Biggs. Those mechanics, The Muse and I decided as we headed back to the freeway onramp, were angels who had been waiting for our arrival. We'll likely never again bump into them, but we won't forget their kindness. They probably voted for Trump and ignored mask mandates, but they still overflowed with that essential cream of human kindness, a full inch of butterfat floating on top, angels in excellent standing.

Whether I'm worthy of such grace after MonauralTyping their place remains a question not worth asking. Of course I wasn't. The thing about grace has always been that it does not check credentials before visiting. It reasonably presumes that the recipient will not be worthy, but that worthiness remains irrelevant. I imagine the fates chuckling "Let that be a lesson to you," whenever watching grace descent. The notions we hold about each other don't inhibit grace, but enhance its effect. Penitent, we resumed our journey. I pray we could all be so fortunate.

©2021 by David A. Schmaltz - all rights reserved

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