The Smallest Angel

the smallest angel

The Smallest Angel

By Michael Winskie

       The year was 1975. Vietnam was almost over. VW microbuses were slowly being replaced by a new generation of “muscle cars”. Disco was beginning to sprout its neon wings. Life in the small town of Moultrie, Ga. seemed to move at a snail’s pace compared to the rest of the world.

Moultrie was one of those tiny little towns that used to flourish with commuter business before the interstate system was finished. Highway 39 was the main artery through town and had seen its share of travelers up until then. Now the flow had diminished to a trickle. Mainly, what they got now was either local traffic or a few curiosity seekers trying to either remember or see what life was like before the states.

They’d meander into town, driving slowly as if gazing at something in a museum in fascination. They’d see several service stations (the kind that still pumped the gas and checked your fluids for you) on their way past the Dairy Queen and the Waffle House- both were still cultural Icons in this town. As they got more into town they’d pass the other two cultural Icons in this town- the First Baptist Church and the First Methodist Church, both with large red brick buildings, large parking lots, and large cemeteries behind them.

When they reached the town square, they’d see the courthouse/ police station/ city hall in the center of town. Following the one-way street that went around it, there were many local shops to peruse. Everything from auto parts to sandwiches, diners and drug stores, lawyers and doctor’s offices could be found here.

One of the biggest attractions for old and young alike (and, it was rumored, the police department) was Ed’s Donut Hole. It was a local landmark for direction givers, as well as for people to “meet up” with each other, for miles around the community. The locals cast many an admiring look toward the place’s faded yellow sidewalk awning, blinking neon “fresh, hot donuts and coffee” sign, and the elevated donut-shaped sign with the missing ‘o’ in donut- which had never been replaced due to the humor of children asking to go to “D-nuts”.

Ed, the grandfatherly owner of Ed’s Donut Hole, was talking with Al, a recent addition to the town, as well as Ed’s customer list. Suddenly, Ed lit up and said, “There she comes”. What began that morning would change both of their lives forever.

“Who”, Al asked? It was then that he caught sight of a little, blond, pig-tailed girl bursting through the front door yelling, “Grandpa Ed!”
“There’s my little angel”, Ed said, as he quickly stepped around the counter. Al couldn’t help but smile as he watches.

“So”, Ed began, “How’s the prettiest girl in town?”

“Fine”, she answered, her shy smile

“Really? Then you don’t want donuts?”

“Grandpa!” she responded with her fists on her hips.

“O.K.”, Ed laughed. “You know where the broom is”. While the young girl ran to the small closet at the end of the counter, Ed headed for the back. Al watched as she took out the broom and, concentrating, swept the lobby floor. Ed, watching from the back room, had two donuts on a saucer. Instead of bringing them up, however, he was waiting for her to finish. Al wasn’t sure, but he thought there
was a tear on Ed’s face. Soon, she finished. As if he hadn’t been standing there already, Ed entered the lobby. ”Just in time, as usual”, he said. The girl was excited when Ed placed the donuts on the table and went to get her some milk. When he passed by Al, he asked, “More coffee”? Ordinarily, Al would’ve said, “No”. However, something about the girl intrigued him and he answered, “Yes”.
While his cup was being refilled, Al said: “I didn’t know you had a grand-daughter”.  Ed finished pouring and answered, “I’ll tell you about it shortly”. He then smiled and headed back. The pair held hands, as the girl prayed. She thanked God for the food, Grandpa Ed, her toys, the chickens, her parents, her siblings and, finally, “Miss Earline”. She ended with “In Jesus name, Amen”.

She tore into her donuts as if she were starving. Between bites, she told Ed about the day before. After eating, she looked at the clock and jumped up. “I’m sorry, Grandpa”, she said, but I’ve gotta go feed Earline’s chickens. Thanks for letting me work for breakfast.” Quickly she gave him a hug and ran out the door. Both men watched her leave. Ed walked to the counter and stopped. Wearily, he began.
“You’re new here, so you probably don’t know. Her name is Della Mae. She’s eight years old. As you can see, she’s a dear.” “Agreed”, Al interjected. “Her parents split up when she was about two. God only knows where her mom is. Her dad shacked up with Earline Pitmire.” Ed almost spits the name out, as if in a hurry to get it off his tongue to keep from being poisoned by it.
“I’ve heard that name, somewhere”, Al responded. Ed nodded. “There’s not a bigger troublemaker in the entire county”.
“Are they still together”? “He split with Earline when Della was five, but he left the girl with her”, Ed answered”.
“Does Earline take care of her”?
“Earline doesn’t take care of no one but herself,” answered Ed.
“Did you notice her clothes?”
“Blue Jeans, T-shirt, and tennis shoes, I believe.”
“The next few days, she’ll still be wearing them”, Ed replied. “The woman barely feeds Della and leaves her alone at night, while she goes out.”
Something wasn’t right to Al. “Why’d you make her sweep before you gave her donuts?”
Ed explained,” A while back, I went to Earline and offered her Ten grand to give me custody until her folks came back. She told me, no and I told her I’d take her to court.”
“What did she say?”
“That she’d rather see Della dead than with me.”
“I believe her. I’ve seen marks on Della from the beatings she’s suffered.”

“The Police…”
Ed shook his head. “Earline sleeps with most of them and, I suspect, the Judge. They’re all in her pocket.”
“Other people must know.”
“One day, I asked Della how she ate. She told me that God takes care of her.”

“Really”, Al asked?
Ed forced a smile and continued,” She has lunch with her ‘Uncle John’ at John’s diner and Dinner with her ‘big brother Danny’ at Danny’s eatery.”
“Hold on”, Al said. “With all these kin here, how’d she wind up staying with Earline? Noone has anybody in their pocket that much”.
“We’re not really kin, Al, she adopted us.”
“But surely, with so many witnesses…”
Sadly, Ed replied, ” We tried. We lost our case and NOW we can feed Della ONLY if she works for it.”
Ed looked sad as he said,” We’re talking about getting another lawyer and appealing, but as it stands unless some kin come…”
“I’M IN.”, Al said.

“I’m a lawyer. Our hands may be tied HERE, but if we can appeal it high enough, eventually, we’ll reach someone who’s not bought. THEN we can win. I’ll take this case pro bono.”
Excitedly, Ed asked, “How long, man”?
“Come by my office when you’re done here. We’ll start the paperwork, I’ll do some research and we’ll see.” Al reached into his shirt pocket and handed him his business card.
“Are you sure you want to do this” Ed asked?
“Yes. We’ve got to get her out of there”, Al said. As the men shook hands, Ed clapped him on his back with his free hand and said; “I knew there was a reason I liked you.”

Two weeks later, they sat at the donut hole. Both men looked crestfallen.
“I couldn’t believe it, Ed”, Al was saying. “It turns out that Judge McAfee has Frat brothers as high as the state Supreme Court. We could appeal this, repeatedly, and still, take Ten years.”
“By then, Della will be grown- or dead!”
“What can we do?”
Ed thought for a very long moment. Finally, he seemed to come to a conclusion. He turned in his chair and looked Al in the eyes and said, “I’m gonna ask you to do something with me.”
“What’s that?”
“Della keeps saying that God takes care of her.”
“Right”, Al scoffed!
“I said that to her once. She said that God DOES take care of her- through her Grandpa, Uncle, and Big brother.”
Al’s jaw dropped. Usually quick-witted, he had no idea how to respond to that. “Let’s test God by praying for her.”
“Your kidding, right?”
“We’ve tried everything else. What harm can it do?”

Al shrugged as if to say it couldn’t hurt to try. They joined hands and began to pray: “Dear Jesus…”

The next morning, as they drank coffee, the shop door flew open and in ran little Della. Grandpa Ed!” She was sporting a huge grin and running.

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