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The Autumn of the Angel

Almighty God, open our eyes to the angels among us today. Amen

Sister Alma Rose Q & A

Q. Sister Alma Rose, do you believe in angels?

A. Honey, do tigers have stripes? Does a duck quack?

Briton Riviere, The Last Spoonful

Briton Riviere, The Last Spoonful

One of Sister Alma Rose’s favorite angel stories comes from Mrs. Uday, who moved to Hilltop from La Mesa after Mr. Uday died. Mrs. Uday was a young widow with three little ones, and she had to get a job, so she came here to give piano lessons in a studio off the old Hilltop library.

We had already bought the sweet, sunny brick house on Lilac, just two blocks from the library, and I had two weeks to get our rambling wreck of a place in La Mesa ready to sell. I still had all my husband’s things—his huge closetful of clothes (mostly polo shirts and chinos), his tools (mostly screwdrivers and duct tape), and, you know, the stuff that men collect. The house was solid, the garage was new, but there were, you know, stains on the ceiling from before we got the new roof, and tiles missing in the bathroom, and weeds in the yard.

It was October, and we’d had three days of wind and rain. I’d just received a large check from the life-insurance company, and it was nearly all the money we had. The rain had stopped for a time, and I decided I’d like to ride my bicycle to the bank to deposit the check. So after the children went to school, I tucked the check into my jeans pocket and hopped on my bike.

October Rain
October Rain

I always liked to take a different route, see different neighborhoods and streets and houses. So when I got to the bank, about a mile and a half from our house, and found that my pocket was empty, I had no idea exactly how I’d got there. I mean, which streets I’d ridden on. And it had started to rain again, and the wind was up, and the streets were covered with maple and sycamore leaves, and the gutters choked with them. I rode and rode in the rain, up one street and down another, looking for that flash of white that might be a soggy envelope, and I saw nothing but leaves.

So I got home, and wept, and realized that I had to go out right then, in the car, in the rain, wasting precious time that should have been spent cleaning and fixing and painting and packing—oh, we had so much stuff—and I had my raincoat on and my hand on the doorknob when the doorbell rang.

I opened the door to a man I had never seen before—a young man, shabby, hungry-looking, pungent in odor but clear of eye. He had straight teeth, very white. He asked if I was Mrs. Uday. I said that I was. He asked for some identification. So in great perplexity I showed him my driver’s license, and he reached into his pocket and pulled out an envelope that I recognized immediately as the one that contained the check from the life-insurance company.

He handed me the envelope—it was crisp and dry—and allowed as how he might be entitled to a reward. I agreed that he certainly was so entitled and promised him fifty dollars as soon as I deposited the check. I invited him in and served him a slab of barley bread and butter and some coffee, and we got to talking, and one thing led to another, and before long I had agreed to pay him for helping me get the house ready.

For the next two weeks, the man—his name was Michael—came to the house every day. He painted. He repaired. He raked leaves and pulled weeds. He entertained the children after school, charmed them into helping him.

My husband’s clothes fit him as though they had been tailor-made for him, so to Michael they went, as did the tools.

I never asked where he lived or how he had found my check. I had friends who said that I was taking “an unconscionable risk” allowing “a stranger, probably a street person,” into the house, among my things, alongside my children, but my mind was perfectly at ease. I paid him the amount we had agreed upon and gave him whatever I didn’t want to pack, and he said “thank you” with great dignity, and, by the time the moving truck came, the house was gleaming and everything was neatly encased in carefully labeled boxes, and of course when I arrived in Hilltop and unpacked, I found, as I had expected, that he hadn’t stolen as much as a spoon or a necklace. Not that I had much of value, but what I did have was intact.

It didn’t seem to embarrass him, during the two weeks, that every day, as he was leaving, I took his hands in mine and blessed him and thanked God for sending me an angel.


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