Cousin Benny, my first cousin, is like a brother to me.
He is my Aunt Anne’s (Daddy’s baby sister) “little peach” — 6-foot-2 and 350 pounds of retired Mississippi Bureau of Investigation manhood. Over his long career, Benny has arrested all sorts of bad folks, including Byron De La Beckwith, the guy who shot Medgar Evers, the civil rights leader. They made a movie about catching De La, and Benny played himself.
Goateed and pony-tailed, he looks like the Big Lebowski’s missing brother or a refugee from a Grateful Dead concert.
I am proud of Benny.
Now, Benny is not inclined to make things up. Nor is he inclined to see the world through rose-tinted glasses. You can’t put anything over on Benny.
If I am ever going somewhere I ought not to go, I want to take Benny with me.
Get the picture?
So, when Benny told me he had met an angel, I paid attention.
It was Christmastime. He and his wife, Martha, had come down to the coast to visit his mother, who is in the same nursing facility where my mama is going through rehab. His mother’s house is next to ours.
He came back from a visit all excited.
“Guess what I saw at the nursing home today?” Benny exclaimed as he sat down with his wife and a beer.
Not my first guess, or even my second.
He continued. “Martha and I were sitting in the lobby, waiting to go in and see Mother. I was on the couch, facing the door. This guy comes in.”
Benny always faces the door because, he explains, “I don’t like my back exposed.” Years of police work will do that to you.
Benny has spent his life observing people, but this one was special.
“He was bigger than me,” (and you gotta be big to be bigger than Benny), “clean shaven, and red-faced from either the cold or the alcohol, you could smell it on him.”
His size was emphasized by his too-small outfit — warm-up pants, T-shirt and zip-up-the-front hoodie that combined still failed to cover his “very large protruding belly.”
All navy blue.
Think Walmart Saturday night.
Benny figured it was some homeless wino in from the cold.
After picking up some informational brochures from the registration desk, the guy walks over to Benny, reaches in his pocket and pulls out a $20 bill wrapped around a business card.
He hands it to Benny.
Benny politely refuses to take it.
The man insists.
So Benny takes it.
Then the man sat down on the couch with Benny and began to ramble on about nursing homes in general and about how he planned to get cigarettes for the smokers in rehab there. After a few minutes of that he got up, reached in his pocket and pulled out a wad of bills — most of them twenties — which he handed to Martha with instructions to give them to needy residents.
(I suspected that he did not hand the money to Benny because Benny looked like someone who would spend most of it on women and whiskey, then waste the rest. But I could be wrong.)
He could be this generous, the man explained, because he was “a zillionaire” and an angel on top of that.
Yessir, an angel.
Not an archangel, he wanted that made clear, something along the lines of a “special-forces angel who had not earned his wings yet.”
And with that he left.
Neither Benny nor Martha saw where he came from, or where he went.
Benny and Martha counted the money — $300, all in twenties — which they turned over to the business office to be used to help anyone in the facility who needed it.
The information on the business card he gave Benny was sketchy — “One Man’s Ministry,” followed by a name and city and a reference to “Blue Letter Bible.” I suppose we could do an Internet search and find out more about him.
But I don’t want to.
I’d rather stick with Benny’s explanation.
He was an angel.
Neither Benny, nor Martha, nor me, for that matter, has ever seen one of the Heavenly Hosts, but as Benny noted, “we have been told that they walk among us.”
“And who,” he added, “would be better to walk among us than an overweight guy who doesn’t mind taking a drink?”
And I thought, who better indeed.
Harvey H. (“Hardy”) Jackson is Professor Emeritus in History at Jacksonville State University and a columnist and editorial writer for The Star. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.