In the fall of 1975 I let my ’71 Chevelle get sideways with me on a rainy night in Georgia. The asphalt was slick. And as I slid into the granite curb, I cracked both the front and rear Mag wheels on the driver’s side of my car. My buddy Allen laughed until I thought he was gonna have a cow right there in the middle of Dodson Drive.
We cut out between classes the next afternoon. Allen always had an answer for everything.
“I know a place down 85 south of Riverdale where we can get you some new wheels.”
We had two hours and we had to be back. We took off in his ’64 Chevy 2 Nova. Or was it the ’69 Plymouth Duster? We were dogging around traffic lights and taking short cuts at speeds that would make your head spin.
GA Hwy 85 was a divided 4 lane highway back then. We topped a hill and out front of us was a mile-long double line of cars behind a house being moved down the road. 10 mph was top speed. There was no way to get around it.
Except for Allen. “We ain’t got time to wait on this mess.”
He pulled off on the right side and started passing the line of cars on the shoulder of the road. We were passing mailboxes and telephone poles close enough to peel the paint off my door.
“Are you crazy?” I was sure we were gonna lose the side mirror.
“Tell me something I don’t know.” His eyes the size of golf balls. More white showing than pupil. Grinning like a possum in a hen house.
That all changed when we got past the house being towed by the big semi. In front of the truck was an escort vehicle, and in front of the escort was a State Trooper on a Harley. The uniform motioned for us to pull up alongside of him. It was a stiff point and wave. I assumed he was mad.
“I think he wants to talk to us” Allen said.
By this time, I had both legs hip deep in the glove box trying to hide anywhere I could get. Allen eased up beside the motorcycle. He slid down so low in the seat that his chin was barely above the bottom of the side glass. He rolled down the window. The house was still in tow behind us.
“Ye..ye…ye..yes ss..ssss….sir?” He should have stopped with that. O Lord, why doesn’t Allen know when to stop his mouth from moving? How can he possibly think that more talking is going to help?
“Som…som…mm…thing we ca…ca…can do f…f…for…you?” And then he grinned.
That did it. I’m not sure what speech we were gonna get before Allen said anything, but the one we got was rather compelling. Imagine your Coach and your Drill Sargent all rolled into one State Trooper who was not happy with these two hicks who just broke the law 50 ways from Sunday by passing a house on a state highway on the shoulder of the road.
“Boy!” I remember that word with absolute clarity.
“If I could stop right now, I’d throw the both of you under the jail. But I ain’t got time to deal with the likes of you. I gotta get this house through town. Now, you wipe that stupid grin off your face. Get on down the road, and don’t ever let me see you again.”
I have lived half my life in fear of the possibility that this same Trooper would one day stop me on some routine license check and recognize me. “Hey, you’re that idiot who ….” I don’t wish him any harm, but maybe he’s dead by now.
Allen stood up with me at my wedding. He became a preacher. Married a great gal. Has two grown sons and grandchildren now. Ironically, one of his sons is a police officer. I hope that Matt reads this. We were fools behind the wheel of our cars more times than I can count back then.
It was in a car that Allen met his greatest challenge a number of years back. He was on a trip to Florida. No doubt doing a favor for a friend or neighbor. A drunk came through an intersection at hyper-speed and hit Allen’s vehicle head on. He and his wife both were injured, but Allen was close to not making it.
Life has not been the same for him ever since. He lost one of his legs. He’s lost the feeling in his hands. He lost his job at the church where he’d been preaching for over 30 years. He lost time with his family. He lost years that he will never get back.
But one thing you should know. He never lost his desire to serve God by serving the people of his community. If Allen was ever good at anything, he has always been good at doing for others. And in this period of his life he has learned that he doesn’t need a pulpit to do that.
What he loved then and still loves to do now is to “love on people”. That’s the way he puts it. He has never cared where they go to church or if they go to church, or on what side of town they live on. If someone needs something or needs something done, Allen is the guy to find a way to provide an answer to their need.
He has spent most of his adult life grilling chicken and Boston butts over open coals and cutting deals in back rooms to get what he needs to help people out. Almost anyone who has ever known Allen got to know him because he did them a favor, and at some point called in that favor for some help on putting up a roof, or buying a set of tires, or taking somebody to the doctor.
He could get you obligated to him before you ever knew anything was at stake. Next thing you know you’re pitching in money to buy the Widow Jones a car. And he has never really been in it for himself. Oh, he might get a fishing trip or hunting trip out of some friend he helped. But nothing he has ever done for anyone has been about him.
He called me a couple days ago. He’s facing a knee replacement. More surgery. The good knee, I guess, is suffering from holding up the prosthetic on the other leg. But he didn’t call for sympathy.
“You remember those rims I helped you get for your Chevelle? A buddy of mine needs a few trees. Figured you could help him out.”
He actually didn’t mention the rims, but he would have if he had thought about it. There’s not another one like him. A man who has every right to expect others to do for him, but who spends every day thinking about the needs of others.
Dear God, give us more Allens in this world.