Long Journey Home
*We gathered in a circle this Sunday, singing our favourite carols and sharing stories of memorable Christmases in our past. It was a rare privilege to hear each story and I am grateful for the opportunity. Here is the story I shared:
A Reflection on Christmas 1984
Shortly before Christmas 1984, as my husband and I realized that in a few short years, we might never be able to go `home’ for Christmas again, we agreed to make the long journey from Vancouver to Ft. Nelson – a distance of 1000 miles. In a few years we would both be ordained as United Church ministers and, well, local congregations seem to like their ministers around at Christmas time. We had a little boy – Aaron, three and a half years old, and our baby Miriam, 7 months old.
As a student minister, my husband had a commitment to be part of a worship service on December 23rd, and figuring if we left in the middle of the night, the children would sleep most of the way – we set out for home about 2:00 AM. It’s a long journey at best, and winter driving with two wee ones, was not my idea of a good time, but the desire to be with our families, for perhaps the last time, was very strong.
We traveled through the night and through the next day. We arrived in the town of Chetwynd about 6:30 PM on Christmas Eve. Time for a rest and a bit of supper. Sitting in a booth, with my baby in my arms, we ordered supper, and soon a shiny pot of tea arrived in front of me. With an elasticity and speed that took me completely off guard, Miriam reached for the shiny thing on the table, spilling the scalding water on her hand and arm.
Other patrons sat in dumb shock as she screamed and I called frantically for cold water. With her arm wrapped in a cold wet rag, we piled back into the car, and drove to the hospital. By now, big blisters were forming on her delicate skin. We waited for almost an hour for a doctor to come, assess the burn, finally allow us to give her some baby Tylenol, and dress her wounds.
We still had about 350 miles to go…
Arriving in Ft. St. John we found everything closed but one gas station, and fortified ourselves with a chocolate bar, and Aaron got an orange and cookie that we had packed in Vancouver. We filled up our old Buick Skyhawk and prayed that tank of gas would last, or that one of the few service stations on the highway would remain open. Again, we set out on the road. 250 miles to go, and we were making tracks in the freshly falling snow. No one else was on the road. No one. We pushed north.
During the miles of deep darkness and frozen land – I couldn’t help but wonder about what perils Mary and Joseph may have faced on the way to Bethlehem nearly two thousand years before.
100 miles to go – on a stretch of winding, cliff hanging narrow road called Trutch mountain, the thermostat began to climb alarmingly. The car was overheating. Finally in the distance, we could see a set of head lights coming toward us. This was the first sign of another traveler in 150 miles of wilderness. We flashed our lights, and the old school bus stopped alongside us. Unfortunately, he was going in the opposite direction and didn’t know anything about thermostats. He had seen lights on at a service station about 50 miles north though. He wished us well and continued his travels south. Back on the road we found that if we kept the car down to 30 miles per hour, we could keep the thermostat under control.
At 2:30 AM, with the gas tank edging toward empty, we rounded the corner to see the lights of Lum & Abner’s café and gas station. The pumps were closed, but the locals were inside, enjoying a late night party. When we explained our predicament, the owner kindly opened the pumps for us and let us use the phone for a collect call to Ft. Nelson. My dad drove the 60 miles out to meet us, and slowly led us home – his truck lights were our guiding star through the inky blackness until finally, at 5:30 Christmas morning, we were able to stop, bundle up our little ones and carry them through the door where love awaited our arrival with open arms.