This past Sunday, December 22, 2013, was a first in many respects for my family. Until that day, our teenagers, Cameron and Carra had never been farther east than the Grand Canyon in Arizona. Linda and I had never driven together more than eight hours at a time on a road trip—and no one had ever been to the State of Oklahoma before. And other than my time in the Army as a younger man, I had never been so far away from home at Christmas. So this road trip, launching three days before Christmas, had all the earmarks of real adventure.
As I have mentioned in other writings, our son Brian is a pastor. In April 2013, he and his wife, Michaelene, announced their plans to leave California to find a ministry in another state. In May, they settled on a small congregation in the northeastern town of Fairfax, Oklahoma. In June, they loaded up their van and a U-Haul trailer and moved away with our grandsons, Lyzander and Phinehas in tow. And while modern technology allows our family to communicate with the images of our son, daughter-in-law, and grandbabies, Skype has yet to perfect human touch through the Internet.
About three weeks ago, after tons of prayer and some financial reconfiguring, I gave Linda an early Christmas present by announcing that we were going to drive to Oklahoma to see Brian and his family. It is difficult to explain fully what that declaration meant to my wife. Suffice to say, she was ecstatic! And she is very good at planning, so I left the details to her. All that was left was packing all the big toys left behind in the June move—so Zander and Phin could have their wagon, scooter, small rocking horse, and musical car—as well as deliver a 22-pound turkey, and have our suitcases, goodies, and creature comforts for a very long drive.
Linda drove the first leg of the trip. Of course, there are always the unplanned and unexpected events on any adventure that invariably might delay or derail such a lengthy expedition, especially when resources are being stretched thin. On the first leg of our 22-hour odyssey, I had made arrangements to leave church worship at the end of our second service, with another bassist to cover me. What I had forgotten to retrieve was the only warm coat I had stashed behind my amplifier during our 7 o’clock rehearsal on the Sunday we were heading out. And it was not until we were in Kingman, AZ, to refuel that I realized I was without a coat in twenty-degree weather. Hence, I had to obtain a coat that I did not plan to purchase.
Our destination for the night was a Best Western hotel in Moriarty, New Mexico, about 30 minutes east of Albuquerque. As far as distance was concerned, that hotel was the median point of the trip. As we traveled, we were constantly searching for the best gas prices and filling up during stretch breaks. Two days before we left, a huge ice storm had blanketed most of Interstate-40 (our route) and along our travels we continued to see warnings posted of ice on the roadway. Fortunately, the roads were in great shape, even with small drifts of snow visible in Flagstaff, AZ, and most of New Mexico. On our first gas stop in New Mexico, a case containing almost a hundred of our favorite music CDs dropped out of my passenger compartment, when I went to pump gas. No one noticed it fell out. About an hour down the interstate, I discovered it was missing. A call to the attendant at the gas station suggested someone made quite a find.
We made into Moriarty about 1:30 AM (Mountain Standard Time) Monday morning and were back on the road at about 9 AM. I drove the next leg of the trip. Snow was visible everywhere and the cold cut right through our pants legs during rest breaks. As we had done on the first day, we filled up wherever the price was right ($2.85 a gallon was the best deal we found.) We stopped in Amarillo, Texas, for lunch and drove across the panhandle into Oklahoma. Every so often Brian would call for updates on our progress.
We stopped in Oklahoma City, and ate dinner and gassed up once more. And on the last two hours of the trip, civilization was replaced by heavily wooded areas along narrower stretches of roadway. We paid a two-dollar toll on one highway and were only a half-hour away from our final destination. Linda and Brian had arranged to keep Zander and Phin up past their bedtimes so we could surprise the kids at the front door. At the crossing of the Arkansas River, Brian drove out to meet us and guided us in. The bridge over the Arkansas reminded me of the bridge I had crossed over in 2004, on the haul-way road across the Yukon River in the Alaskan wilderness—long, narrow, paved with wooden planks, and scary. I was glad it was too dark to see what was below on the Arkansas bridge.
Brian caravanned our weary group to his house, which is right next to the church he serves at. Quiet met our family as we exited the car. Living next to a freeway as we have for nearly thirty years, the silence was quite a welcome change. And, as planned, when we knocked on the front door, Brian had gone in through the back and herded the boys to the front. Who was at the door?
“Grammy!” Lyzander squealed with delight.
Before heading to bed, we visited for about an hour amidst hugs and laughter, pleased to hold our grandsons and see our son and daughter-in-law face-to-face. Whatever else Christmas meant to me in Christmases past, no greater present could have been anticipated than the one we drove over 1400 miles to receive. This trip was more than just OK. It was a gift from God. And it was very good.
I hope and pray you had a wonderful Christmas this year. May God surprise you with joy this Christmas season.
(copyright 2013, Gregory Allen Doyle)