By Wayne William Cipriano
It was Christmas Eve just about 15 years ago, and I lost a lot of faith in my fellow man. Sure, it is not right to judge all by a small sample, but a small sample was all there was.
I had driven to Ava to do a few errands so I would not have to go back to town before New Years. There was snow in the forecast but not for at least 24 hours. On the way home I stopped by the Sanders’ to say “Merry Christmas!” As I was leaving, Gordon and I were surprised at the rate the snow had begun to fall and we said some very uncomplimentary things about the accuracy of our weather forecasting in this area.
By the time I got to Grannie’s Store on T Highway near Goodhope it was pretty much a white-out –– the snow about eight inches deep –– and there was no doubt that the Mighty Mercury Lynx I was driving at the time could go no further. So, I parked at Grannie’s and started to walk. I stuck out my thumb and smiled widely at every car and truck that passed. I don’t know why I began counting the cars and trucks that passed me by on Christmas Eve, in the driving snow, but I did count them. It was 18 cars and trucks. I walked almost ten miles before a Freak (long hair, beard, dog in the front seat, tie-dyed curtains on the windows of his VW van, but most unexpectedly, chains on his drive wheels) picked me up and tried to drive me all the way to my place. The snow was so deep by then that I insisted he stop at his house and I walked the rest of the way home. No traffic, everyone was home for the holidays.
I got home barely in time to stand in the yard and sing, “I’ll Be Home for Christmas” at the top of my lungs to Rosalie before Christmas Eve became Christmas Day. Fifteen years ago and I remember it as if it were yesterday.
I went to a school board meeting Tuesday, Jan. 19, when we had that surprising ice then snow episode a full day before a “light dusting” was forecast (will I NEVER learn?) As I drove home after the meeting I thought about the last time I was weather-stranded and I vowed to drive as far as I safely could, then stick with my car until the roads became passable.
I made it as far as Beaver Creek on Route 76 West out of Ava. There is that very steep, very long hill with a sharp turn at the bottom, and getting halfway up and finding too much ice, no traction, sliding backwards is the stuff of vehicular nightmares.
I pulled over at that white building on the right side of the road just east of the bridge. There was a guy standing there under the lights and when I got out of the car we began to talk about the impossibility of challenging that huge hill before sanding and salting took place. I asked him if I could park there and wait and he said, “Sure!” We talked a little more and when he found how far I had to go, and how late I would be getting home to Rosalie, he offered me his cell phone (I don’t have one) to call her and tell her I would be late, but was safely parked waiting for the plows.
The fellow told me he and his family had been traveling missionaries, giving tent revivals all over for quite some time. Then, the opportunity had come along to establish a church in that white building east of the bridge. That’s when I noticed the cross out front that was soon glowing with a hundred little white light bulbs.
He said I was welcome to park for as long as I wished and invited me into his home while I waited. I wanted to be on my way immediately, to follow a snow plow up the hill as soon as one came by so I thanked him but refused his offer and sat in the car waiting – and waiting – while the ice on the road got thicker, and then it began to snow.
Some time later he came out to the car carrying a big, thick, warm blanket and said if I wouldn’t come inside, the blanket would keep me warm without running the car engine while I waited for the plows. He said when they do come I should follow them up the hill quickly and I could return that wonderful blanket the next time I drove to town. He walked away after saying goodnight, then returned and said, “If you are out here too long, if you get too cold, just knock on the door and you can stay with us until morning.”
I sat in the car all night long. A plow did go by and a couple of trucks did drive past toward the hill. I am sure they made it, but I was safe and warm and only two-wheel driven, so I stayed where I was until dawn. By then the plows had made several passes, the snow was pushed aside, and several regular cars had made the climb. I returned that fabulous, cozy blanket by placing it on the seat of their car and drove slowly and uneventfully home.
When I got there I was treated like a returning king. So much so that I am eagerly anticipating being stranded during the next ice/snowstorm!
An interesting ending to this tale would be to say the next time I went by that white building there was no one there and no evidence of a church. But that is not what happened.
While Rosalie and I were celebrating my safe return, the telephone rang. It was the pastor who retrieved our number from his cell phone and called to be sure I had made it home safely. Then he apologized for not inviting my family to services at his new church in that white building on 76 West out of Ava, just east of Beaver Creek bridge, Sunday at 11 a.m. Any Sunday. Just look for the cross outside.
It didn’t happen on Christmas Eve. There wasn’t a foot of snow in two hours. It wasn’t 18 cars and truck driving by. And it wasn’t a Freak. It was loving Christian hospitality like they talk about in that Book.
And, I’ll never forget it.