Christmas night. 34 years ago.
How do I remember? Our son was a tiny baby. Cathy and I had moved to the West Coast and had flown back to New Mexico for Christmas. We both grew up in the same state. On different planets. But that's another story about how Clovis (her hometown) is more like Texas, ya'll. Socorro (my hometown) is more like, uh, New Mexico.
Those towns are 250 miles apart. No wonder we had to move to Arizona to meet in college.
We flew into Albuquerque for the holiday. My parents lent us their late model Ford, and we drove to the eastern edge of the state to spend a few days with Cathy's family.
We enjoyed a huge Christmas dinner (that's a noontime meal in our part of the world, folks). Loaded into the car with baby Sean napping, we took off for the 5 hour drive to my parents'.
A few hours later, as darkness fell and with about 90 miles of highway in front of us, snow started falling. We kept driving, noting the gathering white stuff on the roadside, but with the warm asphalt just a little damp.
We were making good time on that two-lane highway and had high hopes of escaping the snow when we descended from high plains into the Rio Grande valley. By the time we reached the last town of any size -- still about 65 miles from our destination -- the snow was becoming thick slush on the road.
You know cell phones? They weren't even in Gene Roddenberry's imagination back then. I stopped at a pay phone right next to a tiny Motel and dialed long distance to my folks. I asked if we should just get a room for the night. Dad said it wasn't snowing there and we'd probably drive right out of it. Besides, if we didn't arrive within two hours, he would come and find us. We got back on the road.
Cars were few in number to begin with that Christmas night and they kept turning back in the ever-deepening snow. Finally, as we rounded the last bend before the road straightened and gradually descended into the valley, an old service station offered a beacon of hope. The car in front of us pulled in and nestled next to all the others finding shelter there.
Cathy begged me to stop. But my dad had told me to come so I doggedly kept moving. We soon realized that we were all alone on the highway and it was almost 20 miles to the Interstate.
By this time the road was but a white ribbon and the snow was falling so fast I could hardly see out the windshield. Every mile was marked by a small reflector on a pole. The brightness of the night helped me keep my bearings until I could see the reflection of my headlights off in the distance.
We counted the miles as we drove down the middle of that highway. We prayed.
And somehow we made it.
The snow was heavy the entire journey. When we arrived, my dad said, "I had no idea when you called what this storm was becoming. If I had known, I would have had you get a room and wait."
Many Christmases have now filled the memory books of our lives. None felt quite as frightening and treacherous as that silent, snowy night.
Have you had a Christmas scare? Care to share it?