Color me an angel

Wednesday, August 22, 2018

I’ll never forget her face.

She was the most beautiful woman I’ve ever seen and she probably saved the Struck boys’ lives. I never believed in angels until her and what she did for Ray Struck and his five sons - Paul, Giles, John, Ron, and Mark - that darkest of nights on a New York subway unknowingly bound for the sinister bowels of Harlem.

In 1985 the five Struck boys conspired to surprise and treat their dad at Christmas by presenting him a trip to New York to see his beloved Yankees in a 3-game home stand. That was the good news. The bad news was that all five of his sons were going along.

And we did.

The final game went extra innings so we were running late and unbeknownst to us missed the correct subway train and missed the correct station we were supposed to get off at. I then noticed that all fellow passengers were black and some of them bandana shady and menacingly staring at we six Iowa white boys in our Yankee jackets. We thought we were on the right train but the numbers changed at a certain time and our “right” train turned out to be the “wrong” train.

As we barreled into the darkness and an uncertain future into a crime-ridden environ, from the front of the train an attractive black woman in a camel business suit with a knee-length skirt and high heels got out of her seat and hurried down the aisle to where we were sitting talking about the game. She blurted out, “You boys don’t belong here,” “Follow me and hurry!”

We asked no questions as we jumped up ands ran out the doors at the next stop with her in the lead. On the platform, she hollered,” That train is headed to Harlem. You don’t want to go there at night. Follow me and hurry!”

She took off her high heels, hiked up her skirt, and away we ran as fast as we could along the platform, up some stairs, down some more platform, up another set of stairs, down a platform and into the closing doors of the last train out of there that night. We ran about three or four city blocks and carried dad up the last set of stairs. If we hadn’t, we’d have missed that last train.

Once inside the “right” train, the woman collapsed onto a seat breathing as hard as we all were. As she put her shoes back on, there came that smile agains and she nodded at me as if to say, “Mission accomplished.” We thanked her profusely.

God, she was beautiful. I don’t mean movie star stuff. She was middle aged and for what she knew, and what she realized, and what she did for us, “carrying” us to safety and the rest of our lives is unimaginable.

The next stop came quickly and she stood by the doors. I tried to thank her some more but the words wouldn’t come as everything that just transpired began to hit me between the eyes like a Don Mattingly 12th inning homer that won that extra inning game for the Yankees that night. Hell, we wanted to take her home with us. The Struck’s Patron Saint. A real angel if there ever was one.

“You boys will be all right now,” she said. “Hail a cab at the next stop and it’ll take you to your hotel.” I gave her a hug. Not as long as she deserved, but a good hug nonetheless. Angels don’t give bad hugs.

As she left the train and stood on the platform, she turned and waved at us. And there was that beatific smile once again. The smile I’ve never forgotten. The smile I can’t forget.

That night in the hotel bed, and on the plane ride home, I just kept asking myself…

“Who was she? Where’s she from? How’d she know? Why’d she do it? Will we ever see her again? ”

Then it dawned on me. I don’t need any answers. I just need to trust in angels.

And their smiles. They all smile. Like they know something we mortals don’t.

And she did. She surely did.