From the first road trip as a single parent to her family home, being in the driver’s seat afforded Charlotte a level of control and freedom never experienced during her marriage. She was continuously amazed by how pleasant a long car ride could be. For thirteen years within the confines of her car Charlotte had some of her best ideas, processed the events of her life and let her imagination wander. Her most recent excursion, a conference in New Orleans, gave Charlotte’s mind the chance to jump from one thought to another as she navigated her CRV across four state lines.
Early into her trip home, Charlotte turned her car into the parking lot of a lonely, Southern Gothic-esque Mississippi truck stop. Immediately she was reminded of Flannery O’Connor’s short story, “A Good Man is Hard to Find.” It had been years since she had read the story, but watching a bickering family tumble out of their minivan just as a beat up pickup pulled slowly into the parking lot was all she needed to conjure up O’Connor’s dark tale of a Florida bound family meeting their demise at the hands of 3 escaped convicts. Charlotte vaguely remembered one of her college professors leading a lively discussion on redemption and the measurement of a person’s worth. Having a BA in English along with being Southern had not been enough to entice Charlotte into the Flannery fan club and yet the author’s imagery sprang to mind as she watched the unhappy group make their way into the grimy gas station. Charlotte pumped gas and marveled at what her memory had squirreled away. When the pickup door swung open, Charlotte held her breath and watched as a pudgy woman wearing a tank top and yoga pants stepped onto the gravel. Thankfully, she bore no resemblance to the Misfit and Charlotte’s overactive imagination could rest knowing the family was safe for the time being.
Back on the road Charlotte couldn’t shake the macabre story. What had the title meant? Why hadn’t Charlotte found a “good man “yet? Would she recognize “a good man” even if he were standing in front of her? What was a “good man?” At the time of her divorce, her son had been in first grade. Every night, she listened to his bedtime prayers that included the words, “and please send a good man to mommy.” It made her cringe to think she hadn’t stopped her son from uttering the petition night after night. Had she secretly been hoping God would honor the sweet prayer of a child? Had she used her son’s innocence as a spiritual Match.com; furthermore, why hadn’t God granted the request some thirteen years later?
As the hamster wheel of thoughts cycled through her mind, Charlotte had the realization that God had answered her little boy’s prayer not once but many times. He had placed His answers in her path over and over again and she had taken them for granted. Instead, she looked beyond them in search of her one true love. She had been advised by friends and clergy of the importance of providing a strong male role model for her son. One woman had even suggested Charlotte go to the Adoration Chapel since that is where she had met her second husband. While very peaceful and centering, the chapel had not been a bastion of available men. For a long time, Charlotte worried her son would be emotionally scarred by her failure to procure the perfect husband to guide her little boy to manhood.
Crossing into Alabama, her parents’ home state, Charlotte remembered how her father had patiently coached Mike to ride a bike, and spent many hours working with him on his golf game. The oldest of her three brothers had been the one to finally teach him how to tie his shoes. Since the divorce, she and Mike had spent every Christmas surrounded by four men who knew the value of faith and family. Early on they committed themselves to helping Charlotte raise her son. Driving up I- 65 it dawned on Charlotte, her dad and brothers were the first of the “good men” sent in answer to the bedtime prayer.
The memories of influential men God had sent crowded her thoughts as she made her way home. There was Father Tom, a parish priest who counseled Charlotte, who also took time to meet one on one with Mike during the year the divorce was being finalized. While Mike was in elementary school, she’d pick him up after school and return to the middle school where she taught. He would hang out while she worked on lesson plans and graded papers, often roaming the campus under the watchful eyes of coaches and teachers. As a middle school student, Mike flourished in part to his involvement on three teams and the coaches that led them. After his first and only fist fight, the dean of students put the fear of God into Mike, and later told Charlotte not to worry he was a good kid and she could be proud of him. In high school, when Mike’s geometry teacher gave an assignment to build a birdhouse, Charlotte had posted a lament on Facebook. Several hours later, standing in a friend’s backyard, she watched as her friend’s husband helped Mike to assemble his math project. Each one of the men she remembered played a role in shaping her son. She hadn’t gone searching for them: they had been placed on her path.
By the time Charlotte was in Georgia, she was reflecting on the young man Mike had become. He was preparing to begin his sophomore year at Georgia College, which coincidently was the alma mater of Flannery O’Connor. In spite of her never remarrying, he was bright, kind, resilient, funny, and well grounded. When Charlotte grew weary of being single, he made her laugh by telling her as long as there were still single guys who graduated from Catholic High on Facebook, there was hope. The two of them made a great team. Together they had buried a cat, hung a door, fixed a sink and learned to parallel park. Just about the time she was pulling into her driveway, she was overcome with gratitude. He had grown into a “good man” and was the answer to his own prayer.