It was Monday morning and I was in a mad run trying to make it to work on time. Grabbing my briefcase and purse, I scurried out the back door. I threw everything in the passenger seat and was in the process of backing out of the driveway when I noticed all the neighbors’ garbage by the road. Darn. I pulled back under the carport, left the engine running and rushed back into the house. I snatched up a garbage bag and ran through the rooms emptying paper cans. When I came to the kitchen table, I just whisked everything that wasn’t nailed down into the plastic bag. I tied double knots in the top and ran back out the door. One hard sling got it fairly close to the pickup point.
When I finally got to work, the office clock said I was only a few minutes late, and it wasn’t until I started to the Post Office to get the office mail that I realized I had left the box of film from the wedding we took Saturday afternoon at home. Besides working together in insurance, my sister, Lila, and I were also partners in a side business, Grass Roots Photography. We did portraits three nights a week and wedding photography on the weekends. I usually packed all the rolls of film on Sunday then mailed them to the developer on Monday mornings.
At noon, I went home for a sandwich. After watching my favorite soap opera, I went to the kitchen to pick up the film box. It had been a large wedding the past Saturday and we had shot 20 rolls of film. Although this type of assignment always involved hard work and long hours, it proved fulfilling when we presented a newly married couple with a beautiful album of gorgeous photographs. During the last 15 years, we had built a professional reputation for being thorough and efficient. We had also won several awards, but our main objective was to make sure that everyone involved with the wedding had a good time in the part we played on their special day.
I absentmindedly munched the rest of my sandwich and started looking for the box of film. I searched everywhere. I double-checked both the desk and table where I normally threw everything. I finally decided I had taken the film to work with me and had misplaced the small brown mailing container up there. Not to worry. I’d probably find them on the floor around my office desk. As soon as I got back to my office, I started looking again. I even got down on my hands and knees to feel out the isolated places for the little brown box. Completely flustered, I picked up my keys and told the girls I had to make a run home and would be right back. I didn’t mention to my sister the fact that I had misplaced the film. No sense upsetting her. I’d just go back home and find the box. Then it would be business as usual.
As I was leaving my parking space in front of the office, I noticed the garbage truck going by. I felt a slight uneasiness in my stomach, but my mind was telling me to not even go there. Back at home, I went over every inch of every room in the house, even the room that is so junky I never enter unless it is an emergency. There was no film. A knot of panic began forming in my stomach. I remembered stuffing several boxes in the garbage sack this morning. But surely to goodness I wouldn’t have thrown away the labeled box of film. Could I have done something that careless? After one more thorough search, I knew. Some things you just know that you know that you know. And I knew. I had thrown the wedding film in the garbage.
At this point, I think my brain went on autopilot. I squalled tires out of the driveway and starting searching every street in town for the garbage truck. I finally found it stopped in a narrow alley. I jumped out and ran up to the door, beating on the glass to get the driver’s attention. The packer was running and even after he saw me he couldn’t hear a word I was screaming. Finally, he shut the packing machine down and I told him, “Listen, I’ve got to go through the garbage on this truck.” He just sat there staring at me. “You don’t understand,” I continued, “I threw something valuable away in my trash this morning and I have to go through this garbage. It’s almost a matter of life and death!”
He casually leaned out the window and said matter of factly, “Ain’t no use in going through that back there ’cause I done packed it. Everything is done squashed.” Then he added, “Anyhow, I’m on my way to the dump, so you can’t do nothin’ ’bout it now.”
“Wait!” I jumped up on the foot rail and grabbed the side mirror. “Where do you go to dump this? I’ll go through it there.”
“Can’t tell you that, it’s too many crooks and turns. Anyhow, it’s all the way out in the country from Union City.”
I knew where Union City was, but I had no idea how to find the dump. “Okay,” I said, trying hard not to scream at him. “Will you wait here for me to change clothes and come back? I’ll follow you. It won’t take me over five minutes. Will you just please wait on me?”
“Now look, lady. I got a schedule to keep.”
“I know. I know. But this is so important I don’t know where you are going so I’ll have to follow you. Promise me you’ll wait just five minutes. That’s all I’m asking, just five minutes.” He looked at me with a scowl, but he didn’t restart the packer, so I took that as an affirmative.
I jumped in my truck, drove back to the office, and tried to walk into my sister’s office calmly. I moved very quietly to the edge of her desk. “Now Lila, don’t get upset. I don’t have time to explain, but you need to come with me. Don’t ask any questions; just walk out of the office with me. And do it now.”
Now for Lila not to ask a million questions is unheard of, but I must have sounded desperate, because she reached down, picked up her purse, and followed me out, meek as a lamb. As soon as we closed the office door and were out of earshot, I said, “Get in my truck as fast as you can.” I had the vehicle backed out and headed for our subdivision in seconds.
“Now listen carefully,” I began. “There’s no time to explain twice. I’ve thrown the wedding film in the garbage and the driver said he’d only wait five minutes for me to get back to follow him to the dump to look for the box. I’m going to drop you off at your house. Put on your jeans, some high top boots and get a garden rake. I’ll be right back to pick you up.” Her face had paled, but she was nodding in agreement. By then I was pulling into her driveway. She was still looking at me. “Lila, just get out of the truck and be ready when I come back in a minute.” I practically shoved her out the door of the truck and the last I saw of her she was in a dead run for the house.
I screeched to a halt in my own carport. Running in, I undressed in bits and pieces going to the bedroom and redressed in blue jeans and shirt coming back out. I had a pair of cowboy boots in one hand and was trying to zip my jeans with the other. I got one boot on as I was rushing to the outbuilding to grab a rake. In frustration, I finally threw both the other boot and rake in the truck and took off. When I got back to Lila’s house, she was running out to meet me with shirttail flopping, jeans half on, boots in one hand and dragging a rake behind her. I backed out so fast she didn’t get a chance to close the door on the passenger side and I had to physically grab her to keep her from falling out. She was still buttoning her shirt when I turned down the alley in town. But the truck wasn’t there.
I put my head down on the steering wheel and starting beating the dashboard with my fist. “He didn’t wait,” I screamed. “Why didn’t he just give me five minutes?” I threw the truck in reverse and headed toward Union City.
“What are you doing?” Lila screamed as I pulled out in front of a car and ran the light on caution.
“We’ve got to catch the garbage truck. I don’t know where the dump is.”
We went through the neighboring town barely slowing down at the four-way stops. When I hit the open road I was doing 80 mph. Every part of my body was signaling a red alert, but I couldn’t quit now. “How could I do something so stupid? Do you realize what I’ve done? I’ve just thrown away our reputation. No one will ever hire us again.” I was rubbing my left temple where I had developed a pounding headache with one hand and steering the now 90 mph vehicle with the other. “I guess we could recreate the wedding if we had to, but do you realize how much that would cost? Do you realize how mad her mother is going to be at us? She was tough to work with Saturday, but do you realize what she will do to us now? She will absolutely crucify us. Man, I can’t believe I could be so dumb.” I knew I was babbling, but I couldn’t seem to stop talking.
“And anyway, I’m not sure we have the money to recreate the whole wedding. We’d have to rent bridesmaids’ dresses and tuxedos. And the fresh flowers would cost us a fortune. Oh my gosh! The best man doesn’t even live around here. This is getting worse by the minute.” I expected Lila to jump in while I was getting a breath, but she didn’t say anything.
I glanced over at her, and to my utter disbelief, she was filing her fingernails! I just about lost my religion. “What are you doing Lila?” I screamed. “Our whole future is at stake, the truck is nowhere in sight, I’m driving almost 100 mph, and you’re filing your fingernails. Are you nuts?” Then I added, “Even if we find the truck and the dump, what are the chances of us finding a four by five inch box in the whole city’s garbage?”
She reached over and patted me on the shoulder, “Just settle down Nancy, and keep both hands on the wheel. The Lord has always taken care of us before and He will take care of this too, one way or the other.”
“Lila,” I said exasperated. “The Lord looks after His own, but stupid people who do things like this are far beyond His call of duty.”
“Just keep praying for His help,” she said calmly as she filed back and forth, back and forth.
“Lila!” I was almost screaming, “Do you not realize the seriousness of this situation?”
She just laughed and said, “What I’m really concerned about is what kind of story you’re going to tell the highway patrolman when he stops us.”
The closest thing I could come to a prayer was saying over and over, “Oh Lord, Oh Lord, Oh Lord!” I could hear the file as it went back and forth across her nails. “Will you please stop filing your nails and at least help me look for the back end of the green garbage truck?” How she could be so calm was beyond me. I was driving close to 100 mph, babbling incoherently, and she acted like we were on Sunday afternoon drive!
Just about this time, she came to life. “I see it! I see it! Way up there in front. That’s the back end of the garbage truck.” And sure enough, just as we were entering the city limits of Union City at the first red light, the truck was making a left turn. I cut two people off and got in the turn lane behind it. “We can’t lose it.” I yelled as I saw her throw up both hands when an irate motorist set down on his horn.
Both of us barely got under the next light on a long yellow caution and I heard her mutter under her breath, “We’re both going to be road kill if you don’t slow down.” But I stayed glued to the back of that truck all the way through the city, and when it turned off the highway onto a secondary road, I was in its tire tracks. After a few more miles, he made another right onto a dirt road. The dust was so thick I couldn’t even see where we were going, but I never let up. Through the haze, I saw his brake lights come on and he turned into an uphill, one lane path. He went through a set of gates without stopping, so I did too. The guard at the gate was waving his arms at us and yelling something, but I just waved backed at him like I was deaf. No way was I letting that garbage truck out of my sight.
We pulled straight in behind him on the landfill. As soon as he stopped, I grabbed my other boot and we both jumped out of the truck. Lila ran to one side of the cab and I took the other. We were both banging on the doors and like to have scared both the driver and his co-worker to death. He rolled down his window. I had every intention of being nice, but when I saw his face, the first thing I did was grab his arm and scream, “You didn’t wait on me and I nearly got us killed trying to catch up with you!” He just sat there staring at me. “Well, at least show us where you’re going to dump this stuff,” I said rather sarcastically.
He jerked his arm away from my grip and pointed further up the landfill. “But,” he said, motioning to his right at a bulldozer that was idling, “He’s gonna cover it up as soon as I dump it.” Lila heard that statement. She jumped off the running board and took off in a mad dash toward the dozer. I stepped aside and watched as the packer blade pushed everything in the bed of the truck into a pile taller than my head. The workers got out and stood there looking at me. At that point, I couldn’t even speak. I never dreamed there would be so much garbage in one load. Every garbage sack had been split by the packing blade and everything, both imaginable and unimaginable, was in that heap of smelly trash.
Lila came running back. “The dozer driver said he’d give us five minutes. No more. We’ve got to hurry.” I couldn’t move. I just kept staring at that heap last week’s garbage. We had about as much chance of finding that film box as we did of winning the lottery without buying a ticket. She ran to the truck and grabbed both rakes. I felt drained. One little brown box in all that mess. It was an impossibility.
She thrust a rake in my hand and pushed me toward the monster. We both starting working at the sides of the pile. The stench was almost unbearable. We had to keep wading in deeper and soon the garbage was over the tops of our boots. In the background, I could hear the dozer operator rev up the engine. We tried to rake faster.
The two workers sidled over and asked, “What you lookin’ for anyway.”
“A little brown cardboard box, all taped up,” I quipped. “It’s less than the size of a book.” They looked at each other and shook their heads. It was all I could do not to take the rake and start in on them. I knew it wasn’t their fault, but I felt so helpless. For the next three or four minutes, Lila and I raked in silence, trying to hold our breath as we scrounged around in the stinking mire.
From over the sound of the dozer, we heard one of the workers yell “Is this what you’re lookin’ for?” In his hand he held a little brown box, all covered in tape. Lila was the first one to reach him. I was in shock as I recognized the box of film.
She grabbed the box from his hand and then started jumping up and down and screaming, “It’s the box! It’s the box! He found the box of film!”
I ran over and examined it to make doubly sure. It was intact, not a scratch or dent. Even the address label was perfectly clean and readable. I couldn’t believe it. When the realization finally hit me, I starting running in circles, my hands in the air yelling at the top of my lungs:
“Thank you Lord, oh thank you Lord!”
Lila was so overcome with joy that she grabbed the driver and gave him a giant hug. All four of us were laughing and yelling and acting like a bunch of idiots when we realized the bulldozer was about to run us down. We jumped out of the way and watched him dig a hole and bury the huge pile of refuse.
Since the dozer was making so much racket we couldn’t hear each other talk, we just kept shaking both worker’s hands and finally made our was back to the truck. As we drove out of the landfill, dust fogging all around us, we were still whooping it up. We gave the gatekeeper another big wave as he stood there looking stern and perplexed with hands on his hips.
Rather than chance it, we drove to the post office in Union City and mailed our precious package. The only thing that kept it from being in perfect condition was the fact that it did have a skunk-like odor.
On the normal drive home at 55 mph, we had to let all the windows down as we both reeked of garbage. “See,” Lila said. “God did give us a miracle today. He knew we had to have help, and you and I both know no one but Him could have made that little box visible to that man.”
I knew what she said was true. Our heavenly Father had truly shown two of his distraught children that we were precious to Him. God chose a very special set of circumstances and a garbage dump to prove a point: He doesn’t cull anything where His children are concerned.
But I truly believe He probably keeps an extra set of guardian angels on hand for Lila and me.