The Rockport Miracles-Part 4: Episode 4: “The Ballad Of Derecho Dan” Continues
Big Dan had sweated out his last day on earth. He tried to decide whether to keep the Gas & Lube open or close it down before the relentless derecho storms tore the old building apart. He feared that a sudden storm could ignite the station’s vulnerable underground gasoline supplies. Hanging in the balance were the livelihoods of his family and the future of Little Dan.
That evening after work , Big Dan came home and sat down in his favorite chair. He turned on his Zenith Color TV using its Space Commander Remote and then quietly passed on to his next life without so much as an ‘adios’. The hobgoblins of stress and worry had finally gotten the better of Big Dan and left him standing at the pearly gates, probably with a quizzical look on his face. He'd been a hard working and honest man who internalized all the things that gnawed small chunks out of him until nothing was left but a chunkless man.
Wilmena and Little Dan had discovered Big Dan dead from a heart attack just as Rockport’s emergency sirens signaled that the next storm was on its way. It turned out to be a false alarm. Yes, a storm had hit Rockport that morning. It rolled in and left flooding, downed trees, water spouts and power outages. Fortunately, it had been a “normal” storm. The type of storm that we'd grown up with. The kind that happen on warm summer days when moisture from the Gulf of Mexico rushes north through the Tennessee and Ohio Valleys.
Abiding by their “storm era” policies, the police, fire and ambulances couldn’t or wouldn’t respond to Wilmena’s tearful call until the danger had passed. There was nothing they could do for Big Dan, anyway. So, Wilmena summoned her army of close friends and kind hearted neighbors who braved the storm and filled the house with love and support. Together they moved Big Dan from his chair onto a swaddle of pillows and blankets that had been laid on the floor. As the storm outside the house raged on, everyone prayed aloud and didn’t stop until they came and took Big Dan away to the medical examiner.
Meanwhile, no one had been paying attention to Little Dan. He stood frozen in a corner of the family room, clutching his Boston terrier and staring into space. Wilmena noticed little BD trying to squirm out of Little Dan’s clutches and finally realized that her son was in a state of shock. She guided him towards the comfortable confines of Big Dan’s favorite chair and said, “This is your chair now.” Then she brought him a tuna salad sandwich and a bottle of Coca-Cola from the kitchen. Food usually cured whatever funk Little Dan was in but not this time. Wilmena remained patient with him, “Everyone mourns differently,” she told her friends, “Little Dan has never experienced such a loss. He needs time to work it out in his own mind.”
The funeral of Big Dan Newman was one of the largest in Rockport history. St. Paul’s Lutheran Church was packed to the gills. When the crowd overflowed out of the church they jammed themselves between the “$0 DOWN!” and “A REAL CREAMPUFF!” deals in the A-OK Used Car lot across the street. Car and motorcycle clubs from all over the state attended and the Rockport Kiwanis Club announced the creation of a scholarship in Big Dan’s name. In his eulogy, Mayor Robert “Fat Bob” Franklin told a funny story of how Big Dan pulled his car out of the Rocky River in the midst of Storm 3.4, failing to mention the part where he was as drunk as a skunk as he tried to cross a flooded bridge.
Little Dan’s zombie-like detachment persisted throughout the funeral ceremony and the fried chicken luncheon that followed. Just about everyone tried to talk him back into reality but it had been of no use. Little Dan just wasn’t going to snap out of it until he was ready to come to grips with Big Dan's death.
On the morning after Big Dan had finally been laid to rest, Wilmena woke up at 7am with a startle. Something didn’t feel right. Little Dan was never out of his bed before 8am. She decided to stick her head in his room, anyway, just to make sure he was still sleeping. He wasn’t. Little Dan was gone!
Wilmena hurried downstairs and soon realized that neither he or little BD were in the house. When she opened the detached garage she immediately noticed that Little Dan’s Triumph motorcycle was missing. She jumped into her car and sped off to the only place he could possibly be, the one place that had sustained the Newman Family since 1916, the eternal Rockport Gas & Lube.
When she arrived, the first person she saw was Little Dan. He had opened up the station all by himself and was busy pumping gas into Horace Gridley’s 1958 Studebaker Hawk. Wilmena walked up to the pump as Little Dan was cleaning the car’s windshield. “He’s a good boy,” shouted Mr. Gridley, “Old Dan and Big Dan are smiling down from heaven, right now."
Wilmena cautiously approached her son and asked, “Can I help you, dear?” Little Dan plopped the windshield squeegee into its bucket and hung the pump handle back into place. He then turned to her and said his first words since Big Dan had passed away. “We got this, Ma,” he said assuredly.
Then, a tear formed in the corner of Little Dan’s eye and that led to even more tears. Little BD came running out of the Tire Corral and jumped between them just as Little Dan collapsed utterly and emotionally into his mother’s arms. Wilmena hugged him like only a mother could. She parted from him and cradled his woebegone face in the palm of her hand. “You betcha’ we got this, darlin’ boy," she said, "we Great Lakers are a tough breed. Don’t you ever forget it.”
NEXT: Part 4: Episode 5: “The Ballad of “Derecho” Dan” continues
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©2019 Illustration by Greg Budgett
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