I was only 5 years old when I became an uncle. I had been pleading with Mom to give me a little brother. Mom said no, which I'm sure is the reason my eldest sister Jean decided to have a baby boy. I could always count on her to come through for me when Mom wouldn't.
Jean loved to get Mom's goat by spoiling me. And I didn't really care whose goat was got as long as I was getting what I wanted.
And baby Mark was exactly what I wanted. He was cute. He was little. He was fun — especially when he drenched my sister whenever she was slow in making the transition from wet diaper to dry.
I loved the little guy from the moment I first saw him that mid-October day 52 years ago.
Mom and I took the train to California to help Jean get back on her feet. Riding the train was great. Being the first in the family (besides Jean, of course) to see Mark was even greater. But the greatest thing about that trip was the elevator in Jean's apartment building.
The elevator was an antique, which is a kind way of saying the thing was a death trap. It had accordion doors that had to be closed for the elevator to run, and when it ran it shook and rattled and convulsed until it jerked to a stop — usually about a foot too high or too low.
Mom rode the elevator once; for the rest of the week she took the stairs. I, on the other hand, saw the elevator as a great adventure. It was Mr. Toad's Wild Ride — with the added excitement of the distinct possibility of death and/or dismemberment.
On the second day we were there, Mom and Jean were engrossed in something diaper-related, so I decided to play on the elevator. I was riding the elevator from floor to floor, pausing just long enough to stick my head out the door to inspect the fascinating sameness of each floor.
Suddenly, somewhere between floors, the elevator came to a lurching, herky-jerky, bone-rattling stop. I tried to force the outside doors open but they were sealed shut, like King Tut's tomb. I pushed every button on the control panel — several times. Nothing happened. No response at all.
My 5-year-old brain began to panic as fear gripped my heart. The elevator walls, once so fun and interesting, suddenly seemed frighteningly close — and getting closer with each passing second.
I was sure I was going to be stuck there for the rest of my natural life, which, judging by the way the walls were closing in on me, would only be a few more minutes.
I screamed for help. When that didn't bring help immediately, I knelt down on the elevator floor and prayed. I was still on my knees when I heard a voice from above, reverberating majestically through the elevator shaft: "Joey? Are you in there?"
It was a lovely, loving voice, at once foreign and yet strangely familiar. I was sure God had sent one of his most glorious angels to rescue me.
"Yes," I replied, my voice trembling with emotion.
"Is the inside door closed?" the voice asked.
I checked. "No," I said. "It's open."
"Push it closed," the voice commanded. "Tight."
I slammed the door shut. Suddenly, the elevator jerked upward, shaking and rattling its way to the next floor, where it lurched to a stop once again. The doors parted slowly, revealing a smiling female face in a long, flowing … yellow flannel bathrobe?
"Hey, you're not an angel," I said through my tears.
"All of the angels were busy," Jean said, "so God sent me."
There's a lesson in that for all of us, I think — maybe two: Steer clear of tight, closed-in places. And don't expect God to send an angel when a big sister will do.
To read more by Joseph B. Walker please go to www.josephbwalker.com.