DOWN HOME: An icy Christmas not to be forgotten


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“We’re gonna get hit,” I told Joanna and our girls, announcing one of the strangest blessings we ever received at Christmas.

We were driving from our home in Kentucky to Oklahoma and Texas, where we planned to spend the holidays with our families.

We lived in Tennessee and Kentucky almost exactly 10 years. Since we didn’t have enough money to fly back “home,” we always drove. This meant we traversed Arkansas, where we almost always encountered hostile weather.

This particular Christmas was no exception. On the first leg of the trip, we drove into blinding rain as soon as we crossed the Mississippi River. Tense and exhausted, we gratefully pulled into Little Rock for the night.

Next morning, the rain had stopped, but the temperature had dropped. Sleet started hitting our windshield a few miles east of Russellville.

A gal in a little red sportscar sped past us just in time to slide on a sheet of ice under an overpass, spin 580 degrees and slide up the outside embankment of the highway. I slowed down so I could stop safely and see about her.

That was when I noticed the minivan in my rear-view mirror. The driver looked like a character from a Far Side cartoon: Both fists on the steering wheel. Jaw dropped. Eyes bulging.

“We’re gonna get hit,” I told Jo, Lindsay and Molly, and WHAM! The crash knocked us into the center median where, fortunately, we skidded to a stop without smashing the overpass trestle.

I checked to make sure everyone was OK. By the time I got out of our car, Mr. Minivan rolled to a stop about 50 feet behind us. I noticed his license plate. Florida. “That figures,” I thought.

Mr. Minivan walked up, and these were his exact words: “I ain’t never drove on ice before.”

I just started laughing. “I can tell,” I told him. Everybody in his minivan was safe. We looked across the road and saw Ms. Red Sportscar was OK. We exchanged insurance information. And then he helped me pull the rear-passenger fender off my tire and strap down the trunk lid.

By the time we drove to Russellville and ate lunch, at least a half-inch of ice glazed the highway. We checked into a motel. And we waited.

Our car was small, so we already shipped all our presents to our families’ homes. Lindsay and Molly were about the only kids in the Holiday Inn coffee shop, where old folks—stranded like we were—would reassure them, “Don’t worry; Santa will find you.”

“Yeah, right,” I thought. “And I’ll be walking to Wal-Mart on Christmas Eve.”

Actually, we reveled in two days of unexpected time together, just us four. We played in icy snow, read books and watched movies on TV.

On Christmas Eve, we slowly drove in ruts the trucks wore through the ice. Many hours later, we arrived at my parents’ home. More than ever, we thanked God for family and safety at Christmas.


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