Saturday, December 26, 2009

A Very Special Christmas

After a spectacular annual ski trip at Taos Ski Valley, NM, we were on our way home in high spirit on Christmas Eve. We took US highway 287 south and expecting to reach home in the afternoon. A winter storm that had been affecting NM/OK/TX made the road condition treacherous, and eventually a major accident on US 287 at Wichita Falls in early afternoon - a flipped 18-wheeler, shutdown 287 south, and we were stuck, about 30 miles north of Wichita Falls.

After 4 hour hoping and waiting for traffic to resume, the sun started to set, we finally decided to get off the highway. We took FM 3984 to try to get around the accident, and the road condition there was even worse than it was on the 287. The road was covered by 6 - 12 inch deep snow, with only two or three deep tracks visible for a two way traffic. Driving on this road was really bumpy due to low clearance of our mini van. After about 30 minutes, we drove only 3 miles or so. This section of road had only two tracks, and I saw the headlight of a car up on a small hill moving toward us on the same two tracks!! I slowed and stopped our van, the other car slowed but would not stop. I held my breath and swayed our van to the deep snow covered road side to avoid a head-on crash. The other car finally stopped 10 yards away behind us. An old man came out, and said " I thought that the crash was inevitable because I could not stop my car. You surely avoided an accident!!". Justin, his friend Steve and Steve's dad, who rode with us, under my wife, Lily's leadership, cleared snow around the wheels and pushed the car onto the road. The old man was apparently relived and he told us that we should turn around and go west to find a place for the night because the road ahead was jammed due to a 40 car pile-up. He then drove on and quickly disappeared in the darkness. We turned around, and drove toward the nearest town, Electra. Lily was trying to find a hotel but all hotels nearby were full.

Worry finally gripped my heart. I have got two families and four kids in the car. What were we going to do tonight? Stay in the car in this snowy night?Driving along the main street of Electra, I spotted the Electra police station. Hoping for parking at the police station and using its restroom, we drove there and a policemen directed us to a nearby Church - Bible Baptist Church.

As we entered the front door, warmth and laughter wrapped around us. Church volunteers, Kathy and her mom Melendez, warmly welcomed us. They led us to the kitchen area, where other stranded families were gathered. They showed us where bathrooms were and gave us warm food and water. In the sanctuary of the church, Lily broke into tears on my shoulder still shaken by the earlier incident. Melendez came over and hugged her- "You are all right, we will take care of you". While we were helping ourselves with food and water, Melendez, Kathy and other volunteers were busy cooking more food, as more stranded travelers were coming in. A few more church goers brought snack and desserts from their home in the bone-chill cold night. Later, Kathy put on Christmas lights in the dinning area just to make us feel the atmosphere and cheer of Christmas eve. A traveller asked her if she planned a Christmas Eve like this. She said " Not really, but I enjoyed every moment of it". Their high spirit, generosity, their genuine kindness to people in need moved and warmed my heart deeply. I wanted to remember these people who helped us, I went out to take my camera to take a picture of the volunteers working in the kitchen.

About 50 stranded travelers slept in the pew of the church. When I woke up in the Christmas morning, I noticed that Melendez was sitting in a chair in platform at the front. She had been up all night looking after us! After breakfast prepared again by Kathy and Melendez, I went outside the building to take in fresh air. It was a beautiful day, the sky was blue, the Sun was shining, but the roads were covered with snow-turned ice. I wanted to remember this place. I went around the block to take a better look of this tiny town we passed so many times before without paying attention to it. The church itself is small, a water tower to its south, and highway 287 a mile or so to its north and modest one story homes surround the church.

When I got back to the church, Kathy and Melendez were resting on a bench after clearing ice at the entrance. I asked them if they are mother and daughter based on what I heard from conversations, just to confirm. I then asked their names even though they introduced themselves when we came in the first time because I wanted to remember them by names, not just nameless volunteers.

When it was time for Kathy and Melendez to go home for a rest, Melendez walked around to tell the few remaining families including us that we should come back if the road condition is still bad, and somebody is always here to help us. She hugged us goodbye. We expressed our gratefulness even though we knew that words were not enough to express our gratitude.

Finally US 287 was open around noon, we left for home in a sunny, white Christmas day. The road was still jammed with cars and trucks, the traffic was crawling slow, and it took us eight hours for a typically 3 hour drive. I drove eight hour straight in mostly very stressful condition. When we got home at 8pm, despite being dehydrated and exhausted, I was in a very good mood.

What a Christmas it was. In this Christmas, what we got were not just food and shelter from total strangers, we got an uplift in spirituality, we got a cleansing of our souls. We were touched by Angeles.

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