The Rockport Miracles - Part 4: Episode 7: "The Ballad of Derecho Dan" Continues

All people could say after storm 5.4 finished up with Rockport was how fortunate we all were to have a hospital five minutes away from everyone.

Doctors and nurses who instinctively knew that their community needed them, left their homes and families in the dead of that storm-tossed night to save their fellow townspeople. You simply cannot place a value on the role a community hospital plays when seconds and minutes mean the difference between life and death.

By the time the first responders had untangled Wilmena Newman from the wreckage of her house, seconds and minutes were all she had left. When the tornado had torn into their front porch, it sent a large wood splinter straight through the window and into her chest, narrowly missing her heart. Thanks to the quick response and transport to the hospital four blocks away, the ER doctors and nurses were able to stabilize her condition and rush her into surgery.

After surgeons successfully stitched and dressed her wounds, the first thing Wilmena uttered upon regaining consciousness was the word “miracle.” Two hours earlier and before the rescuers had arrived, she’d told Little Dan that her life had been saved by the spirit of Big Dan who shielded her with his favorite chair. Little Dan thought she was delirious and gave the matter little thought until he was able to survey the damage in daylight. He surmised the chair had to have flown through two rooms in order to land where it did. All the other adjacent pieces of furniture in the family room had stayed put.

A knowledgeable understanding of tornadic winds and the laws of physics could’ve provided a cogent explanation for how that chair ended up where it did. Whatever the reason, it wasn’t in Little Dan’s nature to doubt a person who believes in miracles. To do so could rob that person of hope. As young as he was, he knew from personal experience there are times when hope is all a person has left. Only a lowdown skunk would try to take it away. If Wilmena said it was a miracle, that was good enough for him.

Little Dan had spent the rest of the night at the hospital while his excellent neighbors looked after Little BD, his beloved bull terrier. Once the doctors had assured him that Wilmena was out of danger, he wandered outside and did what came most naturally to him. He headed for the Gas & Lube.

The tragic events of the previous night had distracted Little Dan so completely that he’d forgotten about Joe, Joe, and Joe. They were the Italian bricklayers hired to build a protective wall around the gas station. By the time Little Dan showed up, they’d been on the job for hours and had already heard the news about Wilmena’s plight from customers looking for gas.

The Gas & Lube itself had sustained minor damage. The storm picked up the piles of bricks scavenged from the ruined Lincoln Casualty building and tossed them around like handfuls of Pez. Every window in the station was blown out and the “Hi-Test” globe on one of the pumps flew off and exploded against the wall of the Tire Corral. Upon seeing Little Dan walking toward them, the Italians stopped working and embraced him like a brother. Little Dan didn’t know it yet, but thanks to the three Joes, every Italian mother and grandmother in Cleveland’s Little Italy were hard at work to keep him supplied with Lasagna and Pasta Fazool until Wilmena was back on her feet.

Little Dan didn’t want to cry in front of the three Joes so, the three Joes cried for him. Soon they were all crying and embracing when suddenly the unmistakable roar and pop of a Harley-Davidson engine caused them to break apart. That’s when an unfamiliar man on a motorcycle rolled up to the pumps. He looked like a hard-core biker dude, dressed in leather pants, T-shirt, leather vest, and a red paisley bandana wrapped tightly around his head. Little Dan took note of his long hair, scraggly beard, and the pack of Lucky Strikes rolled up in the short sleeve of his t-shirt. The man’s most distinctive characteristic was the tattoo on his bicep. It was the insignia of the 101st Airborne: a Screaming Eagle with a banner below the eagle’s head that said, “Death From Above.”

“Fill ‘er up, mister?” asked a sheepish Little Dan. The mysterious biker gave no reply. Instead, he adjusted the bandana on his helmet-less head and yanked out a cigarette from his pack of Luckys. He tapped the cigarette down on the speedometer of his Harley, stuck it in his mouth, and lit it up.

“L-S-M-F-T,” joked Little Dan. The biker took a long drag on the cigarette and said, “…ya got that right.”  The three Joes, meanwhile, stood a comfortable distance away holding bricks in their hands and mumbling to each other in worried Italian.

In an attempt to break the ice, Little Dan pointed to the tattoo on the biker’s bicep and said, “That’s a Screaming Eagle! I got a cousin who was in the 101st Airborne…he’s a fella named Maynard Gridley. I’m told he got all messed up over there in Vietnam. My Ma says he’s kinda' the black sheep of the family, so I never seen him in my whole life.”

The biker took another long drag off his cigarette and flicked the butt so far it careened off Wilmena’s tuna fish sign - a good 20 feet away. Then he exhaled the smoke and knocked down the bike’s kickstand with the heel of his cowboy boot.

“Well, Little Dan,” he replied, “You’re seein’ him now.”

© 2019 Scott MacGregor-EOI Media Press Inc.

©2019 Illustration by Greg Budgett

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Volume 15, Issue 8, Posted 12:14 PM, 04.17.2019