When I gassed up in Summersville, West Virginia the cashier let me mix bold roast coffee with flavored cappuccino for no extra charge, but he wouldn’t look me in the eye. I squinted at him. Look at me. Nothing.
I dropped my dollar five on the counter. “Can I ask you a weird question?”
He winced. “Weird?”
“Have you heard of people who are afraid of big, long bridges? And sometimes state troopers’ll drive them across?”
He used his finger in the corner of his t-shirt to clean the ledge over the cash drawer. “I’ve heard of it, but I don’t think they do it around here,” he said.
“Are you scared of the New River Gorge Bridge?”
Hearing the name, my heart revved. I nodded.
“You can’t see over the sides, you know.”
My sucked in breath sounded like a death rattle. “But it’s super high and really long. Plus it’s raining to beat all.”
“Just drive slow. And stay in the middle.”
And pray like nuts.
He peered out into the soaking wet night.
“Be careful about the wind. It’ll blow your car all over the place.”
My fingernails bit my palms. I walked over to the door and got my umbrella ready. “Thanks,” I said inside the store. “For nothing,” I said outside.
I pecked on my daughter’s window. “Your turn to drive.”
As we traveled the next few miles, I waited. For the mist to form on my palms. For my heartbeat to make my shirt move. For my daughter to notice my face and say, “You okay?”
Then the directions sent us left onto State Route 39, several miles before the gorge. The day darkened as we drove past the low level of Summersville Lake and wound through a mile or two of rhododendron and mobile homes. My breathing returned to normal.
“Pull over,” I said after a bit.
“This next part’s a little tricky and since we don’t have to cross the bridge, I can drive.”
Walking around the back of the Honda I peered up at the sky. I clasped my hands together and made my index fingers point up, like a steeple. Thank you so much.
The next morning, after our complimentary continental breakfast, we carried our bags to the car. It wouldn’t start. Shoot.
The front desk clerk didn’t have jumper cables. The maintenance man fussed me out for not having AAA roadside assistance. I went back outside. “I guess we take a taxi to the college tour.”
My daughter’s lower lip pooched out. “If you could find out who has the car on either side of us, maybe…”
I walked back through the lobby toward the dining room. Before going in I paused . Lord… please help.
The sunny room smelled of waffles and sausage. Just inside the doorway I removed my eggplant-colored rain hat.
“Excuse me. Does anyone have a red Sebring or a light green Chevy Malibu?”
A young man in a Nascar hat raised his hand. “Red Sebring.”
My eyes flitted to the ceiling. Thank you so much.
Nascar man and his elderly father followed me to the car. The son popped his trunk and produced extra long jumper cables. I reached out to pet their bright orangeness. “They’re beautiful.”
Underneath the Honda’s hood, the older man squinted at the battery. “Looks original. If I were you, I’d hightail it up to WalMart and spend $30 or $40 on a new one.”
The car started. “Just let it run 15 to 20 minutes,” Nascar man whispered when his dad wasn’t looking.
I dug in my pockets. “Can I give you twenty bucks?”
The man swatted air. “Pa-lease.”
“A hug then?”
He opened his arms.
My daughter knocked on the windshield, tapped her wrist watch.
“We best be going,” I said as I opened the car door. “You all have a nice life.”
As we climbed the monstrous mountain between here and there I glanced at my girl. “You know Jesus has kissed us twice on this trip.”
She didn’t glance up from her AP biology book. “I know. I just hope he kisses us, well, me, one more time.”
I was pretty sure I knew what she was talking about—the ring.
Two days ago, I had walked into my favorite jewelry store in Morgantown. To show the store owner a picture of a ring.
“A heart, a cross, and a key,” he said. “It’s clearly Christian, but what does it mean?”
“It’s a promise ring.”
He shook his head. “No, it’s not. A promise ring has a tiny diamond that tells a young lady a fellow intends to marry her someday.”
I removed my jean jacket and laid it on the glass case. “Actually, it’s a purity ring.”
The man squinted. “A purity ring? What’s that?”
I pushed my shirt sleeves up and puffed my bangs off my forehead. “It means she’s saving herself for… you know… marriage.”
The jeweler huffed. “In this day and age? Whoever heard of such a thing?”
I didn’t smile. “A mother can hope.”
He snorted. “I grew up in the age where women did that, saved themselves for marriage.” He bent to examine a stack of catalogs.
“Every woman I’ve ever talked to said she wished she hadn’t waited.”
I rested my hands on the glass case. “I wish I’d waited.”
The jeweler paused his searching to look at me intently. “You do?”
“That’s something you can only give away once. I wish I’d given it to my husband, instead of…”
The jeweler massaged his jaw. “Wow. That’s really nice.”
I touched my wedding ring, then the ring my husband gave me for Mother’s Day the year our middle child was born.
The man stood. “You still married to him?”
I nodded and pointed to the black opal ring, wrapped in a swirl of gold, on my left hand. “He bought this here, remember? For our twentieth anniversary.”
The jeweler lifted my hand to his face. “Him? Ah, he’s a good guy.”
We searched his books for religious rings. We found faith, hope, and charity charms. Star of David rings. Crucifixes, with and without Jesus, his arms open wide, waiting on death.
The jeweler closed the last catalog with a sigh. “No purity rings. I can make her one. Engrave a signet ring with the heart, cross, and key motif.”
I collected my jacket and headed for the door. “I’ll let you know.”
The college tour guide was not earning his keep. I leaned over and whispered in my daughter’s ear.
“You wanna cut out? I’d rather go back over that mountain today than tonight.”
She yawned and stood. “Yeah, let’s.”
In the vast commuter parking lot we located the Honda. As I turned the key in the ignition, I held my breath. Success.
Before I backed out, I handed the Mapquest directions to my daughter. “Basically, we’re going to follow them in reverse.”
She flipped to the last page. “We need Route 29 West. Turn right at the second stop light.”
After the light, that’s when I spotted it: the Lifeway store. I signaled three seconds before I whipped the car into the parking lot.
My daughter clutched the grab handle over her window. “What’re you doing?”
“This is your third kiss.”
She asked how I knew. I smiled as I shifted into park. “Just a feeling.”
There they were, up by the cash registers. Not one but two different styles of heart, cross, and key rings. A sign nearby read, “Ask cashier to order your size.”
My daughter rotated the display rounder back and forth. “Which one do you like better?”
I shrugged. “It’s your ring.”
“I like this one. It’s—”
“More delicate, more feminine.”
As the salesperson unlocked the case, she said, “We can mail it to you in your size. It’ll only take a week.”
“If this one fits,” I asked, “can she have it?”
The salesperson handed her the ring. “Sure, if it fits.”
My daughter slid the ring on, giving it a nudge to move it past her knuckle. With her arm extended she admired her hand. “It’s perfect.”
“Awesome,” I said, heading for the register. “But you can’t wear it home. You have to wait until Easter.”
With a whimper she removed the ring.
I patted her back. “The waiting, sweetheart, is the hardest part.”
Welcome to “Faith Matters.” Each Sunday, Lord willing, I’ll be posting a faith story.
If you have one to share, contact me here.