"OUR FATHER WHO ART IN HEAVEN...." The radio station sign-off paid tribute to the eve of the birth of Christ by invoking the ageless prayer in lieu of the traditional National Anthem. At its conclusion the cab of the 1992 single stack Mack-with-a-sleeper-on-the-back fell silent, save for the drone of the engine and rush of the wind.
1951 International tractor with 32’ trailer
Memories of his father killed in a foxhole on a similar snowy and bitter cold Christmas Eve saturated his mind. Duane Starkholder had always taken the prayer personally, wishing, hoping, believing his father was in Heaven. He was only a small boy in 1944 and had been angry that such sad news had taken the joy from his first electric train, a Lionel with a pellet-induced smoking steam engine. Christmases of love brought about by time, marriage, children and now grandchildren had helped suppress remembrances of that paradoxical day and the strong feelings of another traumatic holiday.
The soon-to-be-retired professional trucker reached for the dial in search of entertainment. Refocusing his attention on the task at hand he was surprised that over a dozen miles had been added to the mile markers during what, he thought, was a short trip down memory lane. The snow was getting heavier and he had better call home to let them know he might be a little late. He was not particularly religious, even though he believed he had witnessed a miracle, some say he was the miracle. Still he would like to be home in time for midnight prayer service with the family.
Someday he'd show his grandsons the newspaper clippings of the Christmas of '55. He was recently married and just completing his first year with a Midwest printing and packaging company, driving a 1951 International 5-speed with an electric 2-speed axle. He was young, full of energy and in a hurry to spend his first Christmas with his wife.
At the truck stop a few miles back he had called Barbara, his bride of 10 months, only to learn that the storm had knocked out all power to their section of town and she was running low on firewood. She had said that she and the baby were sharing a sleeping bag but she was scared and cold so when the state trooper told him they were closing the road due to the blizzard he dared the officer to try and catch him as he barreled through the road block.
He had a badge too, the coveted chauffeur’s badge worn proudly on his cap. With chains on the drive wheels and a 10,000-pound payload in the nose of the trailer he was sure nothing could stop him.
An hour and only 25 miles later he was not so sure. Some of the drifts were up to his running boards and he was tiring from the constant shifting. It seemed like every time he'd get into high 4th the tractor would slam into a drift and he'd have to double clutch the crash box down a gear usually splitting the axle at the same time. Even locating the roadway was taxing his concentration. He was fearful that the rig might jackknife, slide off the shoulder, or worse, run over the top of a stranded motorist though he hadn't seen another vehicle of any kind since the road block.
Spending Christmas in the cab of his truck waiting for a rescue team would be humiliating not to mention the possibility of frost bite or even death, his wife and child's! Another hour and a pitifully few miles later he was coming to believe it was going to take a miracle to get him through. Each blast of blowing snow conjured thoughts of Barbara and little David calling his name, as the kindling dwindled and the drafty old house took on the characteristics of a tomb.