The Big Wheel
A Christmas Story

September 1960

I Woke Up One Morning With Six Hungry Babies
I Had Just 75 Cents In My Pocket
Their Father Was Gone
The Boys Ranged From Three Months To Seven Years
Their Sister Was Two
Their Dad Had Never Been Much More Than A Presence They Feared
Whenever They Heard His Tires Crunch On The Gravel Driveway They Would Scramble To Hide Under Their Beds
He Did Manage To Leave $15.00 A Week To Buy Groceries
Now That He Had Decided To Leave, There Would Be No More Beatings
But There Would Be No Food Either
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
I 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

I Had To Have A Job
Still No Luck

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
Someone To Work Eleven 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 Me
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 Wheel

When I Got Home In The Mornings I Woke The Baby-Sitter Up And Sent Her Home With One Dollar Of My Tip Money
This Was 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
I 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 Tires

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 Christmas Morning

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 Came Up

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
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, Crumbled Inside And Kneeled In The Front Facing The Back Seat
Reaching Back, I Pulled Off The Lid Of The Top Box
Inside Was A 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 The Most Amazing Christmas Day Of My Life, I Was Sobbing With Gratitude
I Will Never Forget The Joy On The Faces Of My Little Ones That Precious Morning

Yes

There Were Angels In Indiana That Long-Ago December
And They All Hung Out At The Big Wheel Truck Stop

Author Unknown






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