Sometimes beauty and danger are related.
Vincent Maxwell wasn’t always sixty-six years old. Looking at the deep lines on his face, sunspots, white whiskers, thick convex lenses focusing on things far away for his faded blue eyes; you would never imagine he was ever fifty years younger.
According to neighboring children, Vincent is a mean old man. The retired carpenter lives by himself in a row house in an older neighborhood outside Tampa.
But, Vincent isn’t always mean. There’s one thing that actually places a smile on his sun baked face exposing an almost Letterman-like, gap-toothed grin.
It’s a muggy Sunday afternoon. I’m standing across the street from Vincent’s house. He’s sitting on his front porch rocking an old cedar chair. I imagine he had been watching the Weather Channel before he ambled expectantly outside. At first, he holds up his hand like he’s sensing the change in temperature and drop in air pressure. Wind from the west stiffens and Vincent closes his eyes and lifts up his nose for a sniff.
Ah, rain is on its way. I can’t hear him think, but it looks like that’s what he’s thinking as I start to walk across the street.
He isn’t smiling, yet. It’ll be minutes before he’ll hear the approaching rumble of thunder. His mouth readies itself for a change when dark swirling clouds block out the sun.
Vincent’s wispy, whitish hair blows, eyes widen, he rocks faster and then, CRACK, lightning strikes an oak tree; sparks fly and bark falls to the ground. The conjoined boom of thunder is deafening. I wish I was wearing Depends.
Vincent smiles and whispers, “Sylvia.”
As dangerous as thunderstorms are, Vincent apparently finds them beautiful. But, there’s nobody in his life to wonder why he feels that way. It’s a mystery, that isn’t actually a mystery, because nobody knows; except for myself and one other; Sylvia. And, Vincent doesn’t even know we know. In fact, Vincent doesn’t even know me at this point and I’m now standing on his porch. His eyes are still closed; probably remembering younger times.
According to Sylvia, Vincent was, let’s say, not very angelic in a non-Heavenish type of way. She met him once. She was 16 and driving to a Teen Revival. Sylvia’s parents would only let her drive when the weather was bad, as it was on that night. On her way she saw a young lad standing in the rain next to a rusty Ford truck with the hood up. She’s told me this story a dozen times, and says she doesn’t know why she pulled over. But, she did.
“Need some help?”
The young man was about to turn around and crack wise about liking to stand out in the rain when he saw Sylvia’s eyes. At least that’s the way she tells it. Their eyes made contact, “in a spiritual kind of way,” she always adds.
Sylvia gave Vincent a ride to his friend’s house and the only thing he spoke was his name and that he was amazed a church going girl would stop to help the likes of him. She said she told him Jesus loves him. Sylvia recalls Vincent looking up at the rain-filled sky, shrugging his shoulders and smiling back at her as he closed the car door.
Sylvia said she never saw him again, but always wonders because they had that, “spiritual connection.”
Of course, I knew Vincent and I knew who Sylvia was talking about. I worked on Vincent’s car the next day after his ride with Sylvia. I was a mechanic then. I doubt he remembers me.
“Excuse me, sir.”
Vincent’s eyes open.
“Do I know you?”
“I’m Pastor McDaniel…”
“You used to work on cars, didn’t ya?”
“Yes, I did, now I pastor a church downtown.”
“Whatcha doin’ here? Why you all wet?”
“I’m here about Sylvia.”
Vincent’s face is surprised and then softens.
“She’s told me the story about giving you a ride one night when you both were teenagers. She’s going through a stormy time in her life right now. She’s in the hospital and I was wondering if you would go visit her with me?”
Vincent’s expression is blank for a moment and then he looks out at the clouds, shrugs his shoulders and smiles.
“Let’s go then. She tell ya we had a spiritual connection that night? I always thought so anyway. Still think about it today; always makes me smile. You got a car, or we gotta walk?”
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