Excerpted from "Angel Country" by Ria Biley, published by Angelis Press.

Sixty years ago, Munjoy Hill was Portland's Italian neighborhood. John Ricci admits that when he was growing up there, he and his friends were definitely no angels.

When I was in the third grade, my friends and I used to hang out at McCarthy's grocery store all the time, raising hell. One day, for reasons known only to him, Eddie McCarthy started calling me "Wahoo."

Pretty soon, all the kids were calling me Wahoo, too. One day I asked Eddie who Wahoo was. He answered, "He's your Guardian Angel." Maybe he was making it up, fooling around, making a joke--I don't know. But I was eight years old, and still young enough not to question anything a grown-up told me. It never occurred to me that what he said was other than the truth.

Not long after, in Catechism class, the nun was teaching a lesson on Guardian Angels. She asked the class, "Who has a Guardian Angel?" I knew this one! My hand shot right up. "I do!" I yelled, "He's an Indian named Wahoo!"

All the kids laughed, but the nun did not. I got whacked. I was surprised, because I was sure I had the right answer. (I guess the answer was supposed to be, "We all have a Guardian Angel.") Anyway, when I got home, my father gave me a whipping, too. Needless to say, I was pretty confused.

Well, I grew up and forgot all about Wahoo. But he hadn't forgotten me.

I guess you could say I led a sort of charmed life. I know I've been lucky all my life. By the time I was a man, I was pretty much a wiseguy; my good luck followed me and I guess it made me cocky. I had earned a rather, shall we say, unsavory reputation. And I certainly wasn't much of what you would call religious. One day I was taking my aunt to visit the cemetery. Suddenly, I heard a voice in my head, very clear. It said, "Don't go back." I knew exactly what this meant; I was facing a crossroads in my life and had been trying to make a decision. The voice was definitely Indian. I knew then it must be Wahoo. I followed his advice, and because I did, my good luck got even better. I eventually met and married the wonderful woman who is now my wife, and I have a terrific daughter. I have survived a massive heart attack and open heart surgery. And I have enjoyed financial security.

But Wahoo wasn't through with me yet. Like I said, I had a bad reputation. Make of that what you will. About 20 years ago, I returned from Massachusetts determined to make a killing in real estate. I decided to buy an old nursing home and turn it into an apartment house. The owner of the building was a gambler and wanted to unload the property. No problem?


There were 17 residents in this nursing home. I couldn't wait to get these people out and renovate the building. The state was funding these patients' care, but it sure didn't look like they were receiving any of it. These poor people were living in absolutely deplorable conditions; too awful to describe.

"They're not my problem." I thought.

One night, I was awakened out of a sound sleep. It was Wahoo. "Don't turn your back on those people," he said. "You can't throw them out. You have to take care of them."

Take care of them! I wanted to get rid of them! Well, I thought; maybe I could let them stay until the state finds another place to put them. These were my thoughts; it was not what Wahoo had in mind. "Another place to put them" never materialized.

I didn't know the first thing about running a nursing home. But I learned fast. Once again, Wahoo had turned my life around.

I found I really enjoyed caring for those people. It made me feel good. I didn't take a penny out of the business for seven years, and I continued to run it for 17 years. By the time I retired, I owned two successful nursing homes.

My friends used to joke about the "new" me. They called me "Boy Scout." I enjoyed it so much that I found an old picture of myself in a Boy Scout uniform taken when I was 14 years old. I had it blown up and hung it behind my desk in my office at the nursing home.

One day I was having a conversation in my office with Paul Davis, a soap salesman. The subject somehow got around to Guardian Angels. I told Paul about my Guardian Angel being an Indian named Wahoo. Paul leaned forward and said, "I see you've got a picture of him, too!"

I didn't know what he was talking about. But I turned around to look at the Boy Scout picture. Sure enough, there beside my left foot was an Indian wearing a buffalo robe. As I stared at the photograph in amazement, I heard Wahoo say, "Didn't you know I was here?"

I'm retired now, and I still feel lucky. I'm definitely not crazy or weird. And yes, I still have that picture.

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