A little scrapblog from a long time ago, when my Zach and the Beanstalk were still my wee little ones (just shy of two and four, respectively). I'm sure that I'll never forget it, but they might not remember.
It was Christmas break during my second year at the seminary. My wife LaRena was working full-time at the County Seat (not the government, but the blue jeans store), supporting our family while I was a student. The retail world doesn't give vacations in December, especially not to assistant managers, so LaRena didn't get a break. But we knew it was one of the last opportunities I would have to be free and clear at Christmas, and off I went with our two little people to visit our parents and siblings in western Nebraska. My brother Paul, on break from Michigan State University, came along with us. The four of us fit snugly but comfortably into our little Mercury Tracer. It was a hatchback, but I can't remember if it was two-door or four-door. LaRena borrowed a car while we were gone, and I do recall that it left some things to be desired, especially in the windshield wiper and window defrosting departments. I know it had to be a tough Christmas for her, all on her own and working while her husband and children drove halfway across the country to visit family.
The trip to Nebraska was uneventful. I guess I must have been feeling pretty pleased with myself, managing to care for my little girl and my little boy on such a big trip. That was fun. Actually, at that point in our lives, I spent a good deal of time with the two of them, especially in the evenings while LaRena was working. So, we knew how to get along alright together. Having Paul along was a big help, too, especially because that meant I didn't have to take the two children to the restroom at the same time. Funny, the sort of things that a Daddy remembers.
The one thing that stands out in my memory from our time in Nebraska that December, is how little DoRena refused to wear anything other than dresses. She was a girly girl for sure back then! Fine. What was not so fine is that I was evidently clueless as to the fact that wearing cute little dresses in cold winter weather really does require such accessories as stockings, in order to prevent little legs from freezing in the wind. Well, I suppose I could blame it on my Beanie for not wanting to wear stockings, but I should have known better and insisted. The end result was that her legs got really cold and wind-burned and chapped; not dangerously so, but still.
Anyhow, the real excitement came on the drive home. You can't make this kind of stuff up. But I should say, first of all, that I had done the responsible thing in getting the car thoroughly checked out and winterized and all that good stuff prior to making the trip. No worries then, or so I supposed. Wrong.
I'm tooling down I-80 through Iowa (one might notice that this stuff always happens to me in Iowa), making good progress at 65 m.p.h. The car doesn't seem to be acting quite right, but I can't determine that anything is wrong. We're just getting started on our second day of driving, expecting to be in Fort Wayne by that night. Suddenly, I can tell for sure that there is something amiss, and I brake the car to pull over along the side of the highway.
It was just at that point that I saw the most amazing thing, like something out of a dream, really. A bad dream. For rolling down the road in front of me, at a pretty good clip, actually, was one of the wheels off my car. Not just the tire, but the entire wheel. Rolling, rolling, rolling, a good hundred yards or more down the shoulder of the interstate. And plunk, there we landed: my brother, my two little children and me, in sub-freezing temperatures, somewhere in Iowa (I believe this was near Davenport).
I probably could have figured out how to change a tire; I've actually done that before. But putting the wheel back on the car was out of the question. I did trot down the road to fetch the thing, and leaned it up against the car. This was back in the days before cell phones, so there was nothing we could do but wait for someone to stop and help us. Thankfully, we had landed right next to an exit ramp, and we didn't have to wait long for a trucker to slow down and find out what was up with us. He radioed for someone to come and rescue us, and we waited some more. It was very cold, so I ran the motor now and then, in order to keep the vehicle warm. We had some peanut butter and crackers that I shared around. I don't know how long we sat there, but it all felt quite bizarre. I felt completely at the mercy of friendly strangers, although it is most certainly true that we were under the mercy of the Lord the whole time. There is simply no way that we were spared great harm and mortal danger apart from His holy angels. I know of no other way to explain why the wheel did not come off until it did, as I was coming to a stop on the side of the road. If it had left the vehicle at highway speed during a lane change, as I was passing another car or a truck, God only knows what might have happened. But it didn't.
We ended up spending a night or two there in Davenport (I'm pretty sure that's where we were). Didn't really have the money for two nights in a hotel, plus another day and a half of meals on the road, but there wasn't any choice in the matter. There was also the repair to the vehicle to pay for. I think we must have had some Christmas money, or something, to cover all of these expenses, because we normally didn't have anything during our years at the seminary. I will say that the Lord always provided as much as we needed to survive, a time or two with money that seemed to fall almost literally from heaven. This highway adventure might have been one of those times.
Turns out that when the folks in Fort Wayne had checked out the brakes on the car, they didn't get the assembly put back together correctly. That's why the wheel eventually came off, some fifteen hundred miles later. I guess it could have happened at any point along the way prior to that, but maybe the guardian angels were taking turns holding it on until they had us at a point where we'd be taken care of by some of God's mortal masks and means of mercy. Once we were home, I went back to the service place that had done the brake check, and with some righteous indignation explained what had happened. To his credit, the manager refunded me the cost of the repairs that had to be done (he didn't pay for our hotel and meal expenses). He was probably breathing a huge sigh of relief that I wasn't planning to sue him and his business. I didn't have any desire to sue him; I was just glad to have my family safe and sound, to be back home, and to have at least some of the costs covered.
More and more, I wish there were some more convenient way to travel between Indiana and Nebraska, because Iowa just makes me nervous. I've known some very nice people from Iowa over the years, but, I'm sorry, I could do without the adventures on that big long stretch of I-80. I always pray Kyrie Eleison when we enter, and Te Deum Laudamus when we leave. I am very glad that the angels are not fearful, but willing to tread along with us.