The Big Wheel Truck Stop
In September 1960, I woke up one morning with six hungry babies
and just 75 cents in my pocket. Their father was gone. The boys
ranged from three months to seven years; their sister was two. If
there was a welfare system in effect in southern Indiana at that
time, I certainly knew nothing about it.
I scrubbed the kids until they looked brand new and then put on my
best homemade dress. I loaded them into the rusty old 51 Chevy
and drove off to find a job. The seven of us went to every factory,
store and restaurant in our small town. No luck. The kids stayed
crammed into the car and tried to be quiet while I tried to convince
whomever would listen that I was willing to learn or do anything.
The last place we went to, just a few miles out of town, was an old
Root Beer Barrel drive-in that had been converted to a truck stop. It
was called the Big Wheel. An old lady named Granny owned the
place and she peeked out of the window from time to time at all
those kids. She needed someone on the graveyard shift, 11 at night
until seven in the morning. She paid 65 cents an hour and I could
start that night.
I raced home and called the teenager down the street that baby-sat
for people. I bargained with her to come and sleep on my sofa for a
dollar a night. She could arrive with her pajamas on and the kids
would already be asleep. This seemed like a good arrangement to
her, so we made a deal.
That night when the little ones and I knelt to say our prayers we all
thanked God for finding Mommy a job. And so I started at the Big
When I got home in the mornings I woke the baby-sitter up and
sent her home with one dollar of my tip money - fully half of what I
averaged every night. As the weeks went by, heating bills added a
strain to my meager wage.
The tires on the old Chevy had the consistency of penny balloons
and began to leak. I had to fill them with air on the way to work and
again every morning before I could go home.
One bleak fall morning, I dragged myself to the car to go home and
found four tires in the back seat. New tires! There was no note, no
nothing, just those beautiful brand new tires. Had angels taken up
residence in Indiana, I wondered.
I made a deal with the local service station. In exchange for his
mounting the new tires, I would clean up his office. I remember it
took me a lot longer to scrub his floor than it did for him to do the
I was now working six nights instead of five and it still wasn't
enough. Christmas was coming and I knew there would be no
money for toys for the kids. I found a can of red paint and started
repairing and painting some old toys. Then I hid them in the
basement so there would be something for Santa to deliver on
Clothes were a worry too. I was sewing patches on top of patches
on the boy's pants and soon they would be too far gone to repair.
On Christmas Eve the usual customers were drinking coffee in the
Big Wheel. These were the truckers, Les, Frank, and Jim, and a
state trooper named Joe. A few musicians were hanging around
after a gig at the Legion and were dropping nickels in the pinball
machine. The regulars all just sat around and talked through the
wee hours of the morning and then left to get home before the sun
When it was time for me to go home at seven o'clock on Christmas
morning I hurried to the car. I was hoping the kids wouldn't wake up
before I managed to get home and get the presents from the
basement and place them under the tree. (We had cut down a
small cedar tree by the side of the road down by the dump.)
It was still dark and I couldn't see much, but there appeared to be
some dark shadows in the car - or was that just a trick of the night?
Something certainly looked different, but it was hard to tell what.
When I reached the car I peered warily into one of the side
windows. Then my jaw dropped in amazement. My old battered
Chevy was filled full to the top with boxes of all shapes and sizes. I
quickly opened the driver's side door, scrambled inside and kneeled
in the front facing the back seat. Reaching back, I pulled off the lid
of the top box.
Inside was whole case of little blue jeans, sizes 2-10! I looked
inside another box; it was full of shirts to go with the jeans. Then I
peeked inside some of the other boxes. There was candy and nuts
and bananas and bags of groceries. There was an enormous ham
for baking, and canned vegetables and potatoes. There was
pudding and Jell-O and cookies, pie filling and flour. There was a
whole bag of laundry supplies and cleaning items. And there were
five toy trucks and one beautiful little doll.
As I drove back through empty streets as the sun slowly rose on
most amazing Christmas Day of my life, I was sobbing with
gratitude. And I will never forget the joy on the faces of my little
ones that precious Christmas morning.
Yes, there were angels in Indiana that long-ago December. And
they all hung out at the Big Wheel truck stop.
Remember, if you got it, a truck probably brought it. Courtesy on the road is contagious.
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