On the road to a Christmas miracle

On the road to a Christmas miracle

Every year around this time, I find myself remembering the birth of my niece, an event that brought much-needed light to our family.

Things hadn’t been going so great since Mom died, as you can imagine, and just the idea of a new little life gave us such a lift.

And when she was born on that December day, a week or so before Christmas, the gloom that had shrouded us since New Year’s Day, 1981, began to dissipate, as if swept aside by a wise, caring hand.

The weather wasn’t cooperating, though, which was probably to be expected when travel plans were being made in Northeast Ohio, but there was a window of opportunity that seemed to offer a chance to slip into Central Indiana before the worst of the blizzard arrived.

“We’ve got to be on the road by noon,” my father said in his most professorial tone, “but before that would be even better.”

That was no problem for my sister, who, as an elementary school teacher, was in the midst of an extended holiday vacation. I, on the other hand, worked at a newspaper, which offered no such luxury.

They looked at me expectantly, worriedly, knowing there were realities out of my control that could seriously complicate things.

“Noon it is,” I said. “We have an early Christmas Eve deadline.”

Which was true, as far as it went, but I was all too cognizant of the myriad time-consuming gremlins that haunted the computers and the aging press we relied on to get the paper printed and ready to be circulated to the 20,000 or so readers who counted on us.

If you’ve never heard the sound of a Goss cranked up to full speed, it’s little like what I imagine the roar of an Atlas rocket might be, straining to escape gravity’s pull on its way to unknown adventures.

Our journey wasn’t as daring as a lunar landing, but then again, those astronauts didn’t have to deal with sub-zero temperatures and the heating system of Dad’s car, which picked that particular afternoon to go on the fritz. My father, ever the optimist, kept reassuring us the chill that enveloped his Audi would be soon replaced by a welcome blast of warm air, which just didn’t happen.

This was a crisis no one had foreseen, and we had two choices.

We could press on, mindful of the coming snowstorm, or turn back and retrace our frozen tracks, then transfer everything into my sister’s much smaller — but more trustworthy — Ford Escort.

That decision, necessary as it was, cost us two hours of travel time, placing us firmly in harm’s way as we started all over again. We tried to keep the mood upbeat as we motored south and then headed west, but there was no denying the fact we were kind of like Dorothy, watching the red sand slide through the hourglass.

The rain began to fall in earnest just before the state line, and by the time the sun set, ice was beginning to form on the surface of the interstate, but the salt trucks were already out, spreading safety.

Then the snow started, and once it did, the highway just emptied.

We — well, my sister, ever the fearless, plucky one — kept on trucking, her car a comfortable cocoon even as I struggled to fold my 6-5 frame into the confining quarters of her auto’s back seat.

My discomfort soon melted into insignificance, however, when we were stopped by a state highway patrolman, waving a flashlight aside his vehicle, which was flashing its scarlet emergency beacon.

“Sorry, folks,” he said. “Road’s closed. You’ll have to turn back.”

“But we’ve come so far,” my sister said, her voice cracking. “Our brother and his wife have just had a baby. It’s Christmas Eve.”

“Sheet of ice,” he said. “Best look for a place to spend the night.”

That, of course, was easier said than done, what with it being dark in a snowstorm the night before a holiday, with no reservations and no conception of where we might find shelter, with hundreds of fellow travelers seeking the same accommodations as we were.

“I’ll bet there’s no room at the inn,” I said, trying to inject a little levity as we pulled into the parking lot of a Holidome on the outskirts of the state capital, but soon, we had a place to unwind.

Dad pulled a bottle of Kentucky’s best from his suitcase, and as we sipped that fortifying amber liquid from plastic cups, we talked of family traditions that had always made Christmas Eve our favorite day of the year. Mom’s tuna noodle casserole, of course, followed by the treasure hunt, the reading of “A Certain Small Shepherd,” and then Ronald Colman starring as Ebenezer Scrooge in “A Christmas Carol,” which we played on two 45-rpm records, all ending with Midnight Mass, as that hush fell over the congregation and the choir sang “Silent Night” and every single person listened.

We called our brother, explained what had happened, that we had done our best but that our visit would have to wait until morning. Try as we might, it was difficult for us to hide our disappointment.

The sun shone blindingly bright that Christmas Day, snowdrifts piled high on both sides of the car as we zipped along the single lane of blacktop open to traffic. Hugs all around as we walked into their apartment, and there, seeming to smile up at me, was the baby.

“Hello, little one,” I said, cradling her. “Welcome to your family.”

Mike Dewey can be reached at Carolinamiked@aol.com or 6211 Cardinal Drive, New Bern, NC 28560. He invites you to join the fun on his Facebook page, where the weather is never frightful.

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