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(8/17/01 6:30:52 am)
The knock at the front door sounded gentle but firm--again the same procedure--three firm knocks and then a pause. I was in
the den reading and enjoying hot tea---my afternoon break from working in my backyard woodshop making angels. Again the
same three firm knocks as I hurried toward the door. I was now able to peer through the front window and ascertain who was
there and it surprised me. It was the mechanic who owned and operated his own garage located nearby. The man had serviced
my cars and trucks for years---I knew the man professionally . He had been born fifty odd years before in one of the Balkan
countries. His parents had come to the United States when he was just a baby and had settled and raised their large family in
New York City. His name was Augustino, but for Americans and their nicknames, it was just Gus. A blend of his parents old
world accent and the New York street sounds made conversation with Gus interesting, to say the least.
I opened the door and then swung the heavy security door open for my guest. I took hold of the big mans hand that he had
thrust out toward me--his massive work worn hand enveloped mine in a crushing, vise like grip. He was not only holding my hand
in a numbing grasp but was shaking it vigorously like pumping an old fashioned water well pump. A vibrant sounding salutation
emitted from his weary looking and unsmiling mouth. ‘Hello John Wilborn’ , he declared formally, ‘I have come for an Angel’.
It was quite apparent the big man had been weeping very recently for his deepset eyes were red-rimmed as only weeping will
cause---extremely bloodshot whites around azure blue orbits---. He suddenly released my hand and brushed across his
trembling lips with his grimy and grease-stained hand. “I must have one of John’s Angels--please John Wilborn, do you have a
John’s Angel I can take with me---it is most necessary I have an Angel---I would like to carry it away with me now’, he continued in
a pleading sounding voice. ‘If you don’t have one, how soon can you make one for me’?
I must tell you about John’s Angels. They are named in memory of my son John who died in 1996 from the terrible ravages of
AIDS. John was the older of my two sons--he was only 37 years old. The first John’s Angel figure was sandblasted onto a slab of
Arizona sandstone from a sketch John’s Mother had drawn. That stone slab was presented to Hospice of the Valley Gardiner
Home in Phoenix, Arizona. That is where John passed away that sad day in July---Mrs. Susan Goldwater, the HOV director, has
that John’s Angel on permanent display at the Gardiner Home. Shortly thereafter I started making wooden figures we also called
John’s Angels---handsome figures with outspread wings protectively raised over a gowned body. I have made hundreds of them
and they are scattered throughout our country and maybe other countries as well. We sent one to Elton John, the English
entertainer. One of Elton’s musical arrangements was requested by son John to be played at his memorial services and
dedicated to me, his Dad.
I come from a time and age when good manners and tactfulness are still accepted and appreciated. I had talked with Gus
many times--talked and laughed and joked. Something was very amiss today--things seemed to be tormenting the big fellow as
we stood there looking at each other. The times when Gus and I had joked around, I had teased him how big he was and how
much he looked like the New York Jets quarterback, ‘Broadway Joe’ Namuth. Now as I stood facing Gus I watched the greying
stubble on the big mans chin quivering, much like a pot scrubbing brush might do --whatever sadness or grief he was feeling was
causing his lower jaw to tremble like he was shivering from the cold. A solitary tear coursed downward, clung on the beard for a
moment and then fell onto his jacket.
I was so very touched---tender, tearful feelings almost overwhelmed me as I responded to his plea. “I have many of John’s
Angels finished, my friend---please let me show them to you and then you can select one and take it with you’. I turned and
headed toward our formal dining area where I had more than thirty of the wooden figures displayed on shelves. I could hear the
big hulking fellow following me---shuffling along like even walking was to be dejected and morose.
It was as if a metamorphosis was occurring in front of my very eyes. The sagging shoulders straightened---the massive and
grease-stained hands flexed open and shut in anticipation---I thought of a wrestler threatening an opponent. But it was the mans
face that was the most expressive of all---his eyes litterly alight and glowing--I suppose it was the tears that made them look that
way. His sagging and sad looking mouth smiled for the first time since entering my home. He stood there, transfixed, sparkling
eyes darting around the room, gazing at the angels on display. Suddenly, it was as if he were driven or compelled, Gus headed
for the display shelf in the far corner of the room---fell to his knees and lifted one of John’s Angels tenderly from the rack. As
depicted in a religious painting I saw once where this person was clasping a bible up against their bosom, was what Gus was now
doing with a John’s Angel. His head was slanted upward, eyes closed tightly, and his lips were moving---one could but assume
Gus was praying at that moment in time. I was so very moved by what felt, I had to leave the room. I have bouts with grief and
uncontrollable weeping at times---today it would have been very easy for it to happen and I would have had no way to prevent it.
I returned to the room a few minutes later---the transformation was complete---the big man was on his feet, strong as Samson
and as confident again as the man I had known over the years as ‘my mechanic’. He was still holding the angel figure tightly to his
chest---against the ivory white color of John’s Angel, now his grease-stained hands looked so out-of-place.
‘You do good work John’, Gus exclaimed in an unsolicitated declaration, ‘my father who was a cabinet maker in the old country
would tell you what good work you do with your hands. I have chosen John--the Angel I would like ---may I take it with me’?
Truly flattered by the honest mans forthright statement I told him that was his angel--that he could take it with him and that I
appreciated his kind remarks about my workmanship. I mused to myself that it would require a physical encounter with this giant to
wrestle that chosen angel from him. Like I had told him--that was his angel now.
At the front door when he was ready to depart his left hand was still clutching the angel tightly against his chest Gus thrust out
his right hand toward me ----smiling now and seemingly at peace with the world. Assuming that the handshake was to be a
goodby gesture, I grasped his extended hand. I was astounded for Gus had thrust a wad of money into my hand. I was
dumbfounded when I looked and saw the amount and the denominations of the bills. A look of wonder and confusion spread
across the broad Slavic features---he stared at me in a searching manner. ‘I will give you more---you just tell me how much you
want--tell me now’, he exclained heatedly. Gone now was the streets of New York accent---replaced by the flat and guttural
middle European accent of his parents. ‘I must have John’s Angel’! Pleading, declaring, threatening---it was almost pitiful.
‘Please Gus’, I said to the big guy, ‘take your angel--you owe me nothing---go in peace my friend and may you find whatever
joy and solace that John’s Angel may bring to you and yours---if you wish, give your money to Hospice of the Valley--they will
acknowledge your donation in my son John’s memory and it will be used for some poor soul who needs help. Almost dimwittedly,
he seemed to absorb the words I was telling him, and finally a look of comphrension replaced the befuddled face.
‘So my friend John, tell me what to do---how to get this money I want to give to this, what you say, this Hospice of the
Valley---please give to me their address and I will take it to them’, he declared in a single outburst. It just so happened that very
day at mail delivery, I had received a letter from Hospice of the Valley informing me of a contribution for a John’s Angel someone
named Lois Wiley had sent in John’s memory. I gave Gus the entire envelope for his address purposes---whether he wished to
mail it or hand carry his donation there.
I’ve never been a ‘hugger’---you know someone who just reaches out there and ‘hugs’ on you spontaneously. At my front door
that day, Gus did his ‘hugging’---a bonecrushing embrace enhanced even more because he still had John’s Angel smashed up
against his chest--in the less than gentle process of hugging, Gus hugged me and John’s Angel so tight that we almost become
one--I’m sure the imprint of the angel figure was imbedded into my chest. Then the big, happy fellow departed my home.
My feelings about that day you ask---were there tears you want to know---do I weep more easily now that I’m older you
inquire---have I forgotten much of what was said that day Oh yes, this event I’m telling you about happened some time ago---in
fact several years past, but all is still as fresh and vibrant as that day so long ago when it happened. I see Gus often around the
garage when he or his men work on my vehicles. Those tender and heartwrenching moments that happened that day are never
mentioned. Why did Gus need one of John’s Angels so desperately----did it do what he thought it would---he never told me--- I
never asked.

Footnote: About three weeks later, I received a donor acknowledgment letter from Hospice of the Valley. The donors first name,
Augustino, grabbed at my memory ----who was this person. Even more strange was that I could’nt even pronounce the persons
last name---I thought and pondered who it might be. Actually there are times when a recipient of a John’s Angel is unknown to
us---perhaps a gift or a remembrance from someone---seems angels have become so important in folks lives---I suppose they
always have been important to so many---I just never noticed until I began to make John’s Angels.
Well it was days and much worrying and fretting before I realized it was Gus, the mechanic, the Augustino. Amazing thing, I
never knew his last name until he used that name for his gift to my sons memory. Thanks Gus---may I continue call you my
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