Christmas 1989. “Please come if you can. Uncle Charles has terminal cancer and probably won’t be with us next Christmas.” For many years in my family, holidays (Christmas and Thanksgiving) have been alternated with the in-laws. This year was not a family Christmas, but the family was trying to get together anyway. It wasn’t a great year for us. The house hunk was on disability because of an accident at work. I was on unemployment because my company, Waldenbooks, had moved their warehouse operation from New York to Tennessee. The boys, recently graduated from high school, were out of work, since they had also been employed there. Jobs were scarce in our rural county with 700 unemployed warehouse workers suddenly in the job market. I was attending school as a dislocated worker, hoping to obtain the skills for a new job.
“Please come.” Our car was shot. There was barely enough for a gift for each of the kids. Friends had provided Christmas dinner components for us. The trip from New York to Indiana was out of the question. Reluctantly, I called my parents with the news.
The kids asked us if we could talk for a few minutes. “Suppose we give up our present money…would we have enough gas money to get there?” one of them asked.
My younger son offered to change the oil and do a quick check up on the car. Our oldest pointed out that we could take turns driving. The car had very little heat…but our older daughter suggested that we could take extra blankets. Slowly, one objection at a time, they showed us that we could make the trip. I called my parents in LaPorte, Indiana and suggested that they make up some extra beds.
We traveled to LaPorte, stopping only for restrooms and coffee. Our car was a tight squeeze for five small people. We had six large people. The kids said that was a good thing as we all stayed warmer that way. Meals were sandwiches eaten in the car. In Ohio, we ran into snow. The car heater didn’t work well enough to defrost the windows so they began to freeze over. There were frequent stops to clear them, but we made it. After eighteen hours on the road we arrived in LaPorte. There was close to a foot of snow on the ground.
It was a great Christmas, rendered more poignant because of Uncle Charles’ illness. There were more family members there than at anytime before or since. Close to 70 people sat down for Christmas dinner. Afterwards, there were games, carols, and visiting.
The trip home was longer as there was more snow to contend with. In Pennsylvania, the snow was so heavy that it melted on the headlights, creating a sheet of ice that coated them. We stopped frequently to clear them just so we had light. Cars were sliding off the road. It was night. Plows couldn’t keep up with the storm. The rest areas were closed. We had no money to stay anywhere so we kept moving. Twenty-six hours later, we arrived safely home.
Anyone who has traveled with teenagers knows that it’s impossible to travel far without petty squabbles and picking. However, our entire trip, bad weather, extremely uncomfortable conditions, with limited money, there wasn’t a cross word from anyone.
A miracle. Several, in fact.