Everyone knows the devil's on the road. He speeds and rages and drinks and even shoots. But the weekend before last, when a bad alternator stranded Christi Ryburn in northern Minnesota with four children, only angels appeared.
The angels spirited the family home 300 miles to Apple Valley on wings of kindness."I'm left feeling that I was supposed to meet all these people," said Ryburn, 28. She also felt she was supposed to share her story, to reassure other travelers that the Good Samaritan lives.
Retired paper mill worker Garnet Tate and his wife, Sheila, were at Hardees in International Falls, Minn., when Ryburn's 1994 Saturn died in the parking lot.
Ryburn was with her 2-year-old daughter, 3-month-old son and her two brothers, ages 8 and 11. (Ryburn is the oldest of 11 siblings, one of whom lives in International Falls.)
Garnet Tate dispensed with lunch, drove home for some tools, came back and went to work. He drove Ryburn to Kmart to buy a new battery.
Sheila Tate said her husband never passes a stranded person: "He just tells them to help someone else sometime."
Coming home Saturday, Ryburn's car made it as far as the little town of Cook, Minn., before dying again, its alternator kaput.
There, they met Nick Shermer and Lars Koski, a couple of 18-year-olds. Koski and five girls were waiting for Nick to close the Riverfront Oil Co.
But Shermer dropped his broom and called every car dealer within 50 miles. None had an alternator. No luck finding a rental car, either. Meanwhile, Ryburn couldn't reach her husband, Chad, and other relatives.
Ryburn's brother, 8-year-old Mark, asked what would happen if he missed his first communion the next day.
Shermer heard that and made up his mind. "We have these battery booster packs," he said. "I figured each boost would give her 30 minutes. I said Lars and I would follow her home."
Ryburn burst into tears. "I said, `I can't even believe you're offering that. You guys have plans for tonight.' And Nick said, `Not anymore.' "
Four hours and 230 miles later, the two-car caravan pulled into Ryburn's driveway. The young men declined to stay; Koski had promised to watch his brother's kids in the morning.
A grateful Chad Ryburn bought them burgers, gassed up their car and pointed them back to Cook. Before going to sleep, Christi Ryburn's little brothers prayed for their new friends Nick and Lars.
It was nearly dawn when the two got home. "He knew he had done something right, and he was feeling good about himself," said Karen Shermer, Nick's mother.
Though Christi Ryburn insisted on paying the garage $125, the two teenagers would have seen them home for nothing, she said. She shared her story in a letter she sent Tuesday to the editor of the Cook News-Herald.
"If someone showed up at our door, my first thought wouldn't be to offer to drive them to Des Moines," she said. "You hear so many bad things about people today. Well, I'm here to tell you that some people out there are angels."