This had been quite a year. In mid-summer Dad moved Mom, Doris and me from the farm into Calgary. They were determined that we were going to have a chance to get a good junior- and high-school education. A suite was rented a half block from Haultain, a junior high, and a few blocks east of Central Collegiate Institution, a high school. All of this produced major changes in our lives – urban living, rented suite instead of the comfortable farm home, large schools instead of a one-room school with a handful of students. Nothing, absolutely nothing, was familiar save our parents’ love, encouragement, and the belief they had embedded in us of the importance of “an education”. It was a very steep learning curve, but we gradually became comfortable in our new life.
However, Christmas was almost here and we could hardly wait. All our lives we had celebrated Christmas Eve with our neighbours. We gathered at the home of Dagmar and George Nygaard, as did Emil and Hansene Dam, Chris Dam, and sometimes a few others. Dagmar, Emil and Chris were siblings, so it was a close group. The plan to attend was wonderful, but fate stepped in. To our dismay Dad developed a flu/cold condition complete with a fever. The doctor ordered him to go to bed and stay there until his temperature returned to normal. Between worrying about Dad and trying not to show our disappointment, Doris and I were a sad pair.
Mother sent the two of us to the store on an errand. On our return Dad called us into the bedroom and informed us that he had called Chris Dam, who was spending the winter in Calgary. Chris would drive our Hupmobile to the Nygaards on the morning of December 24th. Hazel Nelson, also from the Standard area, would go with us to spend the evening with her family. Mom would stay in Calgary and take care of her patient. We were distressed that they would miss our Christmas Eve with the usual crowd, but delighted that we could go.
So it was that we once again were part of the festive day – watching the wonderful dinner take shape, doing some last decorating of the tree, seeing the usual guests arriving. The old familiar pattern unfolded, eating all the special Danish foods, opening parcels, and playing games. Finally the tree was moved to the centre of the room, and joining hands we circled around the tree singing carols as we went. The last was always “Silent Night, Holy Night”, sung, of course, in Danish.
This ceremony finished, Chris announced that it was time we started back to Calgary. Sadly we bundled up and said our goodbyes. We picked up Hazel at an appointed place and off we went. Chris was a somewhat nervous driver, conscious of his responsibilities, and speed he did not! The weather was not too good, the wind blowing and a bit of snow falling. We made it past Strathmore and Doris and I were dozing in the back seat when we were jarred awake. Chris had misjudged where the road ended and the ditch started, and there we were – stuck in the deep snow.
Hazel took charge. We had just passed a driveway into a farmyard. “Look – someone’s up, there’s a light on. We can’t stay here, we’ll go over there for help.” The four of us clutched our coats around us and hurried from the car to the door of the house. Chris pounded on it, and a man opened the door and stood looking at us. Chris explained the predicament and asked if we could come in. “Yes,” said our reluctant host, “but this is what you get for partying and travelling around when you should be home praying and honouring this Holy Day”.
So began the longest night I had experienced. Our host turned out to be a fundamental, evangelical fanatic. In quick succession we learned:
No, he would not pull out our car. It was our punishment from on high to be in trouble.
No, there was no place for any of us to lie down.
No, he would not go to bed. His task was to make us see the light.
To his credit he did, if reluctantly, let Chris phone our parents, tell them our situation and say we would get help in the morning and complete our journey. He also told us that the “heathens” who owned a garage and filling station a quarter of a mile to the west were planning on opening up on Christmas morning. That was the last of his cooperation.
So the night wore slowly on. Doris and I tried to rest by pulling up to the kitchen table and using our rolled up coats for pillows for our heads. Sleep seemed impossible against the drone of the ongoing conversation. Actually it was more of a monologue than a conversation. Our host continued his preaching. Occasionally Hazel had enough and would take him on in debate, with Chris throwing in a few words in her support. Soon, though, he withdrew from the fray and tried to doze in his chair.
Eventually morning came. The snow storm was over, and Chris took off for the “heathens’” garage. Hazel, Doris and I gathered our belongings, put on our coats and waited. In an amazingly short time we heard a car honking. There was Chris in the old Hupmobile, which was no worse for its night in the ditch. As we piled into the car our grumpy host made his parting shot. “I’ll pray for you,” he said. Hazel stopped and thanked him for his help and his concern. Then just as she was getting into the car she turned and said, “We’ll pray for you too. Perhaps the Lord will help you see the light!” With that she slammed the door and we were off. I must admit the way we all laughed as we were heading down the road, was not the best of Christian reactions, but it was genuine.
We arrived home to anxious and relieved parents. Chris gave a brief summary of events, and left for his abode. Doris and I added news about the wonderful Christmas Eve at the Nygaards, and then everything caught up with us. I flaked out on one couch and Doris on another. Mom covered us with blankets where we lay, and Dad returned to his sick bed. Several hours later the four of us gathered at our kitchen table. Mom had prepared a simple meal of some of our favorite foods. As we said grace I thought – “All in all, this has been a very good Christmas”.
I went to the farm this summer. The highway is now excellent, built up and with wide shoulders. Much has changed along the way. The heathens’ garage is long gone, but on the south side of the highway I can still pick out the house where we sought shelter. It is very old and no longer lived in – an abandoned relic of the past – but it still stirs memories of a Christmas Eve 74 years ago. Merry Christmas to all.