Where was I?
Right. I had lost a snow tire on the Trans-Canada Highway in January and was rescued by evangelical Christian mechanics, one of whom had just insisted that I come back to his place for dinner.
Seeing no other options presenting themselves, and not wanting to appear rude in addition to my more obvious sins, I climbed up into his brand-new giant pickup truck, and he drove us to a vinyl-sided home aglow with warm lights coming from behind white drapery.
We were met at the door by his young wife and two of his five children. His wife eyed me, curious, as I placed my boots neatly on the mat beside the many other mini pairs of snow boots and hung my parka up.
She introduced herself and apologized for her quiet, raspy voice, explaining that she had a bad cold and was resting her vocal cords so she could be recovered enough to sing at church on Sunday, then asked if I preferred leftover spaghetti or lasagna. I didn’t think this was the optimum time to mention that I am gluten-intolerant, so I said spaghetti would be lovely, thank you very much.
We all sat down, the 14-year-old eldest son to my left and the three-year-old youngest daughter to my right. They both reached out to grab my hands in theirs, heads bowed. They were readying to say grace.
Of course. I grew up Catholic; my grandmother was very devout, and my uncle Dave is a priest. I was familiar with the ritual. I held their soft hands in mine and bowed my head, too. When in Rome, after all.
It was when the three-year-old piped up that she wanted to pray all by herself after we said the initial round of thanks that I started to feel a little out of my comfort zone.
“Of course you can say a prayer, sweetheart,” her father said kindly, even a little proud.
She sat up very straight in her little jump seat, pleased, and her tiny three-year-old voice rang out clear, like a sterling-silver bell: “I would like to thank our one true just and merciful Lord, who gave his only son for our sins.”
Her father smiled; her mother nodded. I swallowed my spit and said nothing.
“And do you have anything you are grateful for tonight?” the mechanic asked, and it took me a second or two to realize he was addressing me.
I cleared my throat.
This is what I said with my outside voice: “Yes, I am thankful that I did not kill myself or anyone else with my errant snow tire on the highway this afternoon.”
My inside voice was thankful for so much more than that. I remember feeling very thankful that I had put on a long-sleeved shirt that morning, one that hid my tattoos.
Everybody nodded and dug in. I was uncomfortable, and nervous, so I did what I often do when nervous and uncomfortable: I attempted to make small talk.
Things were going pretty good, really, considering our substantial lack of things in common, until I asked the mechanic’s wife what she did for work, then.
She lowered her forkful of steamed carrots. Looked a little offended. “Well, I am a wife and mother, of course.”
I fumbled a little, then caught the ball and recovered. “Oh,” I stammered. “Then you have six full-time jobs.”
She resumed chewing, and I resumed breathing.
After dinner, the mechanic asked me if I would follow him into the garage, so we could speak. The garage had been converted into a carpeted, if somewhat chilly, workout and rec room.
“I’d like you to sleep here for the night.” He pointed at the carpet next to the Stairmaster. “I can dig out the air mattress for you.”
I told him that he had gone well and above the call of duty already, taking me home for dinner, and that there was no way I could impose further. I was going to figure out a way to get into Moose Jaw for the evening and get a motel.
He said I could borrow his courtesy van, even though he usually never let anyone drive it in the winter because it was a rear wheel drive with no snow tires, but since I had managed to drive my own truck with only three tires on it, he figured I could handle it.
We drove back to the shop, where he dug out the van keys and then asked me to sit down for a minute. I knew what was coming. He wanted to have a little chat about my immortal soul.
For quite a while, I listened politely and finally looked him right in the eye and told him I was a devout Catholic. Which was only partly a lie. My dear departed Gran was a devout Catholic, and I really loved her a lot. Plus, there was that time in Grade 3 when I won a Christian rock record for memorizing the most psalms at Bible camp.
He was nice about it, but I got the distinct impression that he felt being Catholic wasn’t quite going to save me.
I told my other grandmother, the lapsed Catholic, about it later that night, safe in my motel room. She laughed her breezy nose-air laugh into the receiver.
“Thought you were damned for being a Catholic, did he? Good thing you never mentioned the rampant homosexuality.”
I called her later the next afternoon, after tracking down the parts and getting my truck fixed, and gave her the update.
“So the adventure continues, then,” she remarked. She also thought it was pretty hilarious that I had been marooned in Saskatchewan due to a province-wide shortage of studs and nuts.
“Why do you think I left Saskatoon?” she quipped. “Sometimes a girl has to hit the road to find a guy with the right hardware.”
Loose End appears in every other issue of Xtra.