A Christmas Miracle
from the archives ...being the true story of a Christmas Miracle, for Megan and other foodies at the 'rents for the holidays, with apologies to everyone else...
Come on over and sit with me Megan. Let me tell you a story. Now this is a true story, though some folks doubt it. But I was there that Christmas Eve and it happened just like this...
Way back when your mama was just a wee thing, there was a great storm. You can find mention of it in the history books, things like this:
"On Christmas Eve and Christmas Day 1945, 20 hours of continuous snowfall blocked roads and required snowplow operators to work the holiday in southern Minnesota."
But they don't tell the true story. Not the whole story.
They don't tell you about The Thing that happened on a dark road, way out of town...
Picture it. A small town in southern Minnesota, Christmas Eve, 1945. It wasn't like now, where you can order everything under the sun with just a click of your mouse. No, in 1945 if you wanted something you had to go to a store, so near everyone in town was out that fateful day.
The war was finally over and the troops were starting to come home to their families. After the last few holidays which, as you can imagine, were not festive affairs, it seemed that the entire town was having a party...
"Dashing through the snow..." red-coated carolers, dusted with snow, as if they had, indeed, been dashing through the snow themselves stood next to a man selling roasted chestnuts and other holiday treats. Parents struggled to control their overly-excited children before relenting and letting them join in the snowball fight outside. "Happy Holidays" and "Good Christmas to you!" rang out in the shops and streets. This year, there was a lot to celebrate and celebrating they were.
Folks were hurrying to finish shopping as night, and the temperature, fell fast. One by one families piled packages and bundles of hats, coats and boots containing children into their cars and headed down the dark road. Near 50 cars full of people left town that evening, most of them with a long drive home on some rough country roads, and by closing time snow was blowing so hard car lights were instantly swallowed by the snow, as if they never been there at all.
The first people came back about half an hour after they drove away, on foot. "Snow's so deep, darned car just stopped. Right in the middle of the road." the driver said, looking towards the snow-hidden road, "None of those people are making it home tonight."
"Santa could save them with his sleigh" his daughter offered. Grim smiles were exchanged by the adults who knew that, even on Christmas Eve, Santa held no hope for those families driving into one of the worst storms that ever happened hereabouts.
Well, one thing small town people are is resourceful, and this town had tractors and sheet metal and a welding shop. They also had a very smart woman, who had gone away to work at the Minneapolis-Moline tractor plant and come back with an engineer's skills and knowing a thing or two about tractors. She made a sketch and had a brief talk with the welder and in just about an hour, a brand new blade was being welded onto a tractor and a couple of guys were wrapping blankets over their coats so they wouldn't freeze themselves while driving the crazy-looking thing.
While all this was going on, a shop was opened so everyone who wasn't working could get warm. Kids clutched mugs of steaming hot chocolate while adults talked quietly in the corner.
A woman said, "Everyone won't be close to home. Some of them are miles out. Even if they can walk out, it'll take a long time. Maybe we should send food..." She trailed off, looking at the shelves, mostly bare after the holiday rush.
What there was a lot of was Cheerios. The Cheerios salesman lived up the road a bit in Lake Woebegon and he was in a great big hurry to be done with work. He had to get home, pickup his family and get to Tyler's Landing in time to catch the last tobaggon to St Olav before the storm set in. When he got to our little town, he had unloaded the contents of his pickup truck onto the store shelves and called it a day. Some had sold, of course, but more than a dozen boxes remained.
"Wait!" the welder yelled at the plow driver, as a group of people ran out the store door, arms loaded with cereal boxes. Boxes were handed up to the second man on the hastily fitted plow. 1, 2, 3..5...10...15...18 boxes in all. This was followed by a thermos of hot coffee and a round of "Good luck...hurry back..." from the crowd and a quiet "Be safe" from the driver's wife.
Watching them lurch along, we could tell that the weight of the plow-blade made driving that tractor really awkward and it didn't have lights--who drives a tractor at night?--so the guy who wasn't driving was balanced on the edge of his seat, one light in each hand, shining them down that now invisible road.
The rest of the tale, well...I'll have to tell you what the driver told me that snowy night.
Right after we couldn't see you anymore, just where the road runs alongside the creek, we slid sideways and just about lost it. Bobby here fell out of the tractor along with all that cereal. Well, all but one box. I reached out to grab his hand and caught the last one just before it slid out. Everything but Bobby and that one box went into the creek.
When we got to the first car with people in it, I started pushing the snow away on the road side while Bobby went around the passenger side to make sure everyone was okay. There were two small children who were very hungry, it being long past supper time by now, and they had a long walk home so Bobby gave them that last box of cereal. I just shrugged my shoulders, we didn't have enough to feed all the kids we were going to help any more so it didn't really matter which one got the cereal.
Bobby hopped back in the tractor and we continued on until we found the next car, or group of three cars I should say. The Mortons and that new family were sitting in the Swensons car, kids in every lap, carrying on like it was a regular ol' party or something. Only problem was the kids were starving. Bobby and I just looked at each other, knowing that we had lost the food we intended for them.
"Let me run back to the tractor and see if there's anything there for the kids." I said as I turned away. No, I didn't turn away because of the tears in my eyes. (Saying this, he dabbed at the tears that he denied were in his eyes.)
When I got back to the plow, I looked around it, under the seats and all, hoping to find something to give those children for their long, slow, cold drive home. Nothing. Leaning back to gather my thoughts, I noticed something in the shadows that covered Bobby's seat.
Darned if it wasn't another box of Cheerios.
Walking back to the car with it in my hand, Bobby caught my eye and raised a questioning eyebrow. "I dunno, we must have missed it." I told him. "Good thing we did, too. These little guys look hungry to me."
As we headed back to the tractor, Bobby said, "I would've sworn there was none of those boxes left. Just that one."
"Me too." I said, not mentioning that I'd been really sure and in any case, how did it end up where Bobby had been sitting just a few minutes ago? Riddle me that, young'un. How?
When we got to the next car, we did the same thing. Bobby jumped out to talk to the people while I got the snow plowed away from the car so they could drive it out. As I went by, I heard the question I dreaded, "You don't happen to have anything to eat, do you? We were out late shopping and the children..."
I heard a noise behind me. Just a little rustling, like a mouse had snuck into the warm tractor and was looking for a hiding place. Turning around to look, I'll be damned if there wasn't another box of those Cheerios. Just sitting there, plain as day.
"What the hell...Bobby, come here."
I shook the box at him, then tossed it. As he caught it, Bobby opened his mouth and I know he was going to ask a question I couldn't answer so I just told him to be quiet now and give the lady the Cheerios. He did and got back in the tractor.
Next car, same thing. A noise and then some Cheerios appeared. They were mischevious things, too, never showing up in the same spot twice. Under the seat, on the floor. Why the very last one showed up right on top of the snowplow blade!
With that he was silent for a moment before continuing...
I'll never be able to explain it, we only had one box if Cheerios. I know we did. But we gave away 37 of them. Thirty-seven. Now, I'm not one to say this kind of thing, but I do believe I just saw a miracle:
The Cheerios Miracle
Well, Megan, ever since that day, we here in parts of Minnesota have eaten Cheerios on Christmas morning as a reminder that even in the worst storm, there is always something better coming. It may not be the best thing, or the thing your heart desires, but it will be good and useful and just might save your life.
Like Cheerios in a storm.