The Touch of Change
Jack Becker put the ‘rough’ in roughneck for 40 years on oil rigs in west Texas. There wasn’t a spot on or in him where a kind thought or gentle word could rest. From the top of his scraggly head and sandpaper, knobby hands down to his worn leather boots he was prickly, abrasive and tough. People around him stopped trying to befriend him long ago and he kept to himself.
“Jack, I hate to ask you again, but you don’t have any kids for Christmas Eve, and I need someone to monitor Number 7 tonight,” the crew boss said.
“Yep,” was Jack’s brusque answer. He’d expected this, actually welcomed it. As tired as he got sometimes, it was worse to have nothing to do. Christmas always made him think back to his childhood. His father dealt with the death of Jack’s mother by beating him senseless two or three times a week. As long as he was working, his dad left him alone; so work became the answer to his problems. He was betrayed by his one stab at romance, thus sealing the wall around his heart.
There was one chink in all this armor, and that was the thought of his mother. The only soft thought Jack allowed in his hard heart was the remembrance of her silky, soft arms wrapping him up and singing him to sleep every night. She would stroke his face with her velvet hands and sing, “Jesus Love Me”. He remembered falling asleep every night in her warm, satin arms. Four is too young to lose that.
He drove out to the rig after dark and dutifully monitored and recorded the pressure gauge readings. Something caught his attention. A car had veered off the dirt road and was speeding straight for the rig.
“What the heck is that?” Jack sputtered out loud. He jumped off his perch and ran over to his truck and honked his horn. This did not deter the car from careening towards a fiery end.
Jack started his engine and drove quickly toward the car to veer it away from the path with a couple of bumps on the passenger side. There was someone slumped over the steering wheel. These jolts knocked the driver’s foot off the gas pedal and the car began to slow down to a stop.
“Man, she’s dead!” he exclaimed after trying to revive the old woman who was driving the car. “Must have been a heart attack or something.”
He was yanking his cell phone from his jeans when he heard a cry from the backseat.
“A baby!” He jerked open the back door and wrangled with the child safety seat belt until he got the baby out.
“He seems ok,” he said. He held the baby with one arm and punched in 911.
The little boy, about two, shivered in the cold. Jack wrapped his jacket around him. The baby nuzzled under Jack’s beard into his neck and stopped crying. The warm softness of the baby’s face took Jack off guard. He rejected the emotions that welled up inside him.
“Where the heck is that ambulance and the cops?” he said sharply. This roused the baby boy and he began to cry again. Jack bounced him up and down, shushed him, and walked him but to no avail.
It was a stretch, but it was the only thing left to try, so Jack began to sing the only song he knew.
“Jesus loves me, this I know…” It was gravelly, but it did the trick. The baby stopped crying and put both his fat little hands on Jack’s cheeks. He looked straight into Jack’s eyes as if to say, “Yes, Jesus does love you.”
The silky, satin feel of that baby’s skin was like a message from his mother. Jesus loves me. He watched the boy close his eyes and melt into the warmth of Jack’s arms. Layers of granite chipped off his heart just then.
Jesus loves ME.
The babysitter had indeed had a heart attack. Baby John’s parents were beside themselves with gratitude to Jack. He became a fixture in the family; resident Grandpa and babysitter. He wasn’t available to work on holidays anymore.
Jack’s heart was soft now, soft as a baby’s skin.
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