COLD, DARK clouds skidded across the sky over the garage as I pulled up during that late Sunday afternoon, I’d deliberately picked the time to visit. Well… almost. By leaving home I’d avoided a TV hand controller fight with my wife. She insisted on watching her professional basketball game… so I did the wisest thing. I visited Mike.
Mike’s garage is a warm and welcome place. Located in the back yard of his house, the garage used to be a barn that housed a small dairy herd. Mike inherited the place, and the tasks of his dairy farming father. The trouble was… though he loved the farm, Mike didn’t like cows. So he sold the cows, raised hay and started a business selling car parts and tools. And, as the years went by he collected and sold car parts for old cars… hence the passion struck him. He retired and bought an old Packard.
A “light in the darkness” so to speak, the Packard now resides in the barn. The car is warmed by a wood stove, alongside an ample tool bench, and friends are comforted by welcoming bar stools. A visitor can settle in the barn alongside the Packard, for a sweet afternoon.
After entering the shop, I saw that a couple of safety stands held the old car’s rear axle up high so that Mike could crawl under the right running board. I peered into the garage dim shadows from the doorway and could see two work boots pointed heavenward.
“Mike, is that you under there?” I asked.
I waited for an answer coming from beneath the old car. I waited some more… and no response came. I took a couple more steps up alongside the graceful fender, stopping only to the detailed paint accent on the edge of the slope flowing down to the spare tire well. From there I peered down at the well-worn workman’s boots.
“Mike, are you okay?” I queried.
I listened quietly. I heard a sound. The low rumble echoed out like a Harley V-twin backing down the long hill into the valley. A few snorts occurred, like the bike had the muffler baffles blown out.
I got down on my knees and peeked beneath the car’s running board. A shop light was on, glowing a yellowish tinge beneath that only heavy duty bulbs can emit. The creeper headrest was up and Mike was laying there… sound asleep.
He looked restful, snoring with his reading glasses perched between his nose and his white mustache. My friend had a hand-written wiring diagram on his chest. In his right hand was a electrical test light, with its probe end hooked around a black wire that routed toward the rear of the old car. It was like he’d fallen asleep amid a voltage test. His arm rested gently on a bracket and his finger was on the trigger… ready to insert the tip and probe the wire, But he’d not pulled the tester’s trigger. Here they were resting together.., an old white car and its wizened caretaker, born in the same year of Our Lord.
I thought about kicking his boot sole to wake him, but decided against it. That’d been done to Mike many a time, and he’d gotten a band-aid on the top of his bald head on each occasion. So I waited and nosed quietly around the shop. I checked out the new wide whitewall tires he’d had shipped in from Corky’s warehouse in Tennessee. He’d said that he had been waiting for them, so he’d be ready for the upcoming car show.
Mike sputtered slightly, but he was still backing the bike down the hill, so I thought I’d just leave and come back another time.
I buttoned my jacket and walked out to my car, and saw that the approaching darkness brought the onset of cold and a dusting of snow. A few flakes rested on the hood of my old Chevy. Then I smelled them!
I knew what they were. There was no mistaking the smell… Welsh cookies!
Mike’s wife Betty was in the kitchen making my favorite dessert of all time. Having less shame than a street rodder caught in a classics show, I walked to the back porch of the house and looked into the kitchen.
Betty stood working over a hot griddle on the stove. In the soft light shed from over the old sink, the tall and graceful woman held a spatula up alongside her gray hair. She was singing a long forgotten hymn I thought had died with my grandmother. “I walk in the garden alone…” went the tune. Betty held the tune’s key much better than my grandmother, but I knew their recipe for Welsh cookies was identical… at least they tasted as much.
Unashamedly, I knocked on the door… though I had been often told that a knock wasn’t needed.
“Come on in!” she piped between stanzas. “And he walks with me and he talks with me, and tells me I am his own.” she continued to sing.
I went in. She smiled and without missing a note, flipped some cookies on the griddle.
Stopping her song, she asked “How’ve ya been?”
“Good”, I returned. “I was just out in the shop and smelled the cookies.”
“Mike is snoozing, ain’t he?”
“Yes, he is.” I returned.
She smiled a little, and said… “He’ll be coming in shortly, it’s almost four o’clock and the last cookies are just about done.”
A rumble of the Mercury convertible and its side lake pipes rattled the window above the sink. I heard the car pull up outside. Betty peered out the window.
“That’s Jessie, she brought that car home before any snow gets on the road. It’s a bit low for country roads, let alone any snowfall. Why Mike dropped the convertible down that low for her, I’ll never figure.”
Jessie pulled her car up to the barn door bay next to the old Packard, waking Mike with a cold blast of air when the door lifted in answer to push button control. Soon, with his tools put away and lights put out, the two… both father and daughter, came through the darkening light to the kitchen door.
“Take those greasy coveralls off!” Betty barked.
Mike complied, as I would given the reward of Welsh cookies hanging sweetly in the air.
Betty sat us at the table and dished out some home-made chicken soup. She said to me, “If ya wants the cookies.., eat the soup.”
We said thanks to God and ate. Each spoonful of soup, though tasty indeed… was torture. Home-made chicken soup was only given at our house when any had a cold. I thought... “I really stopped in for the cookies.” Like appreciating our Lord’s salvation, it was like I’d participate in the bad, before the Good was offered up.
Finally they came. A small porcelain plate with a picture of the church in the center, coddled the near perfect Welsh cookies. They were near perfect only because instead of lard, Betty made them with margarine and butter. This supposedly made them a bit healthier as they cooked with the right kind of currants.
Three cookies were given to each person, done just the way I liked them. We ate and drank coffee that you could cut with a knife. We laughed.., and talked cars. I worried a bit about the strong drip coffee I used to wash the cookies down.
“Would it keep me awake all night?” I pondered. “Was it decaf?” Somehow it didn’t matter.
Betty left and then reappeared in the kitchen with her coat and hat secured. She said, “Let’s go, we’re going to be late.”
Mike looked at me. “You’re comin, right?”
“Where to?” I asked.
“To the hymn sing, silly.” Jessie said. “Mom is leading the gospel choir tonight.”
It’s amazing what good friends and cookies will cause. A change of plans formed in my mind. We loaded into Mike’s Nomad Chevy and motored over to the Christ Chapel. There we sat in the glow of flame-shaped bulbs nestled in wall candleabras. Beneath those Trinity lights in the chapel… we heard stories from the bible about Jesus. He told of the light of God’s love. And we lastly sang music that rooted me to the pace of an old foot pedal organ and some old time religion. I listened intently to the sweet voices of a small choir accompanied by the organ, a flute, and a flattop Gibson guitar.
I remembered the words that Betty sang with the choir as I drove my old Chevy home that night. I caught myself humming them over the rhythm of its small block eight. I’d heard them before from my beloved Grandma Jacobs as she washed dishes in Nanticoke, PA. With a faded soprano she’d sing… “And the joy we shared, as we tarried there, none other... has ever... known.” For some reason that I’ve just begun to understand, she’d then wipe tears from her eyes using her apron.
The words came as those of Mary Magdalene meeting Jesus in the garden after his Resurrection. As I think of it now in my mind’s eye, I can see Mary standing there confused, for Jesus had said “Do not hold onto me”. She was alone, like Grandma after Gramps had died, looking for a sure and certain hope when she saw Jesus. She didn’t recognize Jesus at first… for no one had died and ever came back. But there the Savior stood. Even though not understanding, she surely now felt shocked, loved... and reassured. She must have felt grateful, as I did whenever the dishes were done and I’d helped Grandma put them away. Gram would say to me... “Child, it’s time to read scripture before bedtime. Would you like some Welsh cookies and milk?”
You know, when I consider the taste, I guess they were a heavenly communion of sorts.