Not Gorilla Tape, but an old rusty coat hanger

By Mac McPhail - Contributing columnist
Mac McPhail -

Last week, I wrote in the column about our recent highway adventure, and Gorilla Tape. It reminded me of another incident with a car that happened to me many years ago. But that time, the item that provided rescue was not Gorilla Tape, but an old, rusty coat hanger.

I had been working for the Revenue Dept. for a couple of years in the office down in Lumberton. But, that week, I was helping out in Whiteville because that office was shorthanded due to sickness. The manager there sent me out on the road to contact and try to collect some of their delinquent accounts. It had been a long, hard day, with many miles driven, and many stops made, in an unfamiliar territory.

But the day was almost over with only one more stop to make. If I could contact a logger about a delinquent withholding tax bill, my day would finally be over, and I could head back home. I stopped at the post office at Lake Waccamaw to get directions. (In those days, rural addresses were route and box numbers, so you had to go to the post office to get directions.) The postmaster told me the address was way back off the road, and I soon would find out that would turn out to be a huge understatement.

I was basically in the middle of nowhere, near the edge of Green Swamp. I drove down the barren dirt road for a couple of miles before turning onto the path to go up to the house. It was probably another half mile up the path until I came up to the house. It was late in the afternoon during the winter, so the sun was already starting to set behind the trees. (You may be thinking that it was probably not the safest place to be, especially trying to collect money. Looking back now, I think I agree with you.)

As I drove up to the house, it was pretty obvious that there was no one at home. But that was OK, because I was ready to go home. I would just leave a note and a return envelope on the front door. After knocking on the door and making sure there was no one home, I wrote the note and quickly taped it to the door. Good, my day was done. Let’s go home.

Except for one thing. I had locked my keys in my car. Why I did it, who knows? It was late, I was in a hurry, whatever. All I knew was that I was in the middle of nowhere, it was starting to get dark, no one was around, and my keys were locked up in my car. It would have been a several mile walk back out to find someone to help. (That was many years before cell phones. And, besides, you probably couldn’t get service that deep in the woods.) Then I started to get a little nervous. There were some wild creatures down around Green Swamp, and some of them were animals! Something could happen to me down here in the swamp, and no one would ever know.

I calmed down and checked the car doors. Yes, both doors on the red 1978 Chevrolet Malibu were locked, and the keys were in the ignition. It was time for one of those S.O.S. prayers. You know, not one of those long, thoughtful prayers. But, a simple, to the point, “Lord, help me!” I started to look around for something, anything that might help me get into the car. Then I saw it over in the weeds. It was the answer to my prayer. An old rusty coat hanger.

I ran and grabbed it, after a quick “Thank you, Jesus!” I untwisted the metal coat hanger, and made a little hook at the end. In those days, cars did not have power locks, but had the old fashioned locks on the top of the door. Since my car was a two-door, it did not have a post in the middle. It made it easy to slide the cost hanger inside the window, hook it on the lock, and unlock the door. I quickly unlocked the door, jumped inside, and left Green Swamp. I don’t know if the logger ever mailed the money he owed back to the office in Whiteville, and I really don’t care. I was just glad to get out of there.

In the Bible, Psalm 46:1 states “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.” Whether or not I was really in trouble, I don’t know. And you may think that it was a coincidence that the one tool I needed to get into my car just happened to be right there, laying on the ground. Well, all I know is that it looked like I was in trouble and I had a need. I called upon the Lord and my need was met. That seems like an answered prayer to me.

Mac McPhail McPhail

By Mac McPhail

Contributing columnist