Carefully, forcefully, but now only in his mind’s eye he saw the events again, the powerful semi rounding a bend, straining to pick up speed for the long hill into Wesson Springs. A few more turns of the wheel and he'd be warming his family even if he had to load them into this truck and find a motel.
Halfway across the flat the beams from the ice-encrusted head lamps bounced off a large drift in the center of the road. Failing to see a safe way around the protrusion without risking a jackknife, Duane prepared to plow through the mound. It was only at the last instant that he saw the red glow of taillights coming from inside the mound! Cursing, double clutching and yanking the huge wheel he fought for control, clamping on the trailer brakes in a last attempt to avoid striking the car.
With a muffled thud or two the thirty-two foot trailer slipped off the shoulder dragging the cab and all hopes for a merry Christmas with it. Dazed, but very aware of the situation, Duane scrambled into the blizzard. Illuminated only by the slowly diminishing flush of the truck's head lamps he took his bearings.
In the forested counties of northern Minnesota night snowfall renders the surroundings virtually pitch black. There is no reflected light from distant towns and starlight cannot penetrate heavy blankets of pure white pieces of dark. Realizing at once the conditions familiar to all locals, he knew he was in trouble, never having witnessed such conditions in his home state of Ohio. Before the truck lights gave out, he secured a flashlight and his hooded coat and gloves from the partially overturned truck and set out to check the stalled car.
Barely audible in the blowing gale force storm, Duane could hear the cries of a man half calling, half praying for help. Brushing the snow from the door handle he was aware that the engine was running. In addition to the man's cries a woman's voice, or rather her moans, were filtering from the now recognizable '52 Desoto.
Cracking open the car's door, Duane inquired if everything was all right as his flashlight revealed a terrified man holding the hand of a woman, obviously about to give birth. "Hurry up and come in, you're letting in all the cold. It must be 20 below out there and Mary Beth's about to deliver. You don't happen to be a doctor or something, are ya?" The man pleaded in run-together words.
Stuffing his large frame into the front seat of the sedan, Duane kept the light modestly trained on the ceiling, though his eyes danced between the woman's strained face and the exposed place from where another being was trying to force his or her presence. About to address the man's question the woman let out a sharp grunt, gasping, "It's coming, Jake, help me, quick."
"Hold that light over here mister, please."
With the intensity of a blizzard and the softness of a snowflake a new life was brought forth on this eve of the birth of the Savior. The woman seemed to know what to do, instructing Duane where to shine the light and her husband how to tie off the cord. The moment of euphoric joy only lasted until the reality of the situation was emphatically brought to mind by the exterior conditions; but what a moment. Amid shouts of joy, all three of them, a man, his wife, and a stranger, trapped together in a snowbound car experienced for one brief jubilant instant the hope and future of the world.
"Thanks for your light. I don't know what we would have done without it. We didn't exactly plan it this way," the man explained. "We didn't expect little, ah...Stormy, here so soon. But, Mary Beth went into labor just about the time the storm hit. Without a phone to call for help, we figured that we might be able to beat the heavy part of the snow. Our farm's only about four or five miles from here.
"Where did you come from? Do you have a car or...? Can you take us to the hospital?" Duane explained his predicament, chagrined at his inability to keep his rig from sliding off the road.
"You're welcome to stay with us until help arrives and we're sorry about your truck and...."
"How much gas have you got?" Duane interrupted taking stock of the situation. "It might be a long time before help arrives. They closed the road. I was the last vehicle through and I had to run a road block at that." "I guess we might have two hours-worth of fuel...closed the road? What are we going to do? A baby can't...we've been here a couple of hours already and Mary Beth's..." he spoke rhetorically in broken sentences, while the dim light of the instrument panel cast coal black shadows of Duane's figure on the roof of their snow cave.
"Well, I thank ya for the kind offer to wait out the storm here. Ordinarily I'd take you up on it, but I got a wife and child at home without any electricity and I aim to spend my Christmas keeping them warm," Duane announced. "Besides, we can't just let ‘Stormy’ freeze in this old car can we?"
"How 'bout that eastbound single-stack-Mack-with-the-sleeper-on-the-back, come-on," the CB jarred him back to the present as he automatically keyed the mic.,
"You got the single-stack-Mack, kick it back, come-on."
"How's it look over your donkey? The snow's lighter the further east you go, come-on."
"You be headin' for the heart of it. That there snow be gettin' heavy in your face, come-on."
"Thanks for the update and hope you and all the other truckers listenin' to this ol' ratchet jaw have a merry one," the westbound fellow trucker exclaimed as the two cargo ships of the macadam passed in the night.
Maybe it was a miracle that he had been able to stumble through drifts, darkness and numbing cold, newborn bundled to his bare chest. With less than a hundred yards of open corn field, Wesson Springs General in view, his clod-hoppered right foot had found a gopher hole. Fighting to keep from falling on the baby he twisted his body enough to break his ankle. He lay there in icy pain, thoughts of his father dying in like circumstance flashing before his mind's eye; knowing that he couldn't, wouldn't, leave his son the same way, knowing that if he didn't move it would be spring before they found them, he forced his body to crawl. He had prayed to HIS Father in Heaven that night and maybe it was those prayers that got them through.
Any fool can walk, or even crawl, through a blizzard. The real miracle was the birth of Stormy. He turned out just fine, with no after effects from the ordeal. The last he'd seen, this now grown man, was a year ago during a visit to Los Angeles where Stormy was a police captain. Duane was even Godfather to Stormy's first-born, Paul Duane Peterson.
The blizzard conditions that night hadn't hurt Barbara and David. They were taken in by neighbors with coal stoves. Duane would walk with a cane the rest of his life and Stormy's father lost a leg to frost bite. Mary Beth, Stormy's mother, was taken in by Our Father long before the rescuers came.
This night Duane didn't need any prayers, the snow slacked off and he finished his run on schedule. Sitting next to her husband in the old downtown church pew, Barbara squeezed his hand at the sight of the lone tear that rolled down Duane's face during the closing prayer: ...thy kingdom come, thy will be done...
NOSTALGIA DRAG WORLD - Words by Chuck Klein; Images courtesy of CK