A movement stirred him from his dreams of her. He heard ol’ Roger, his brown lab whining. As he sat up in his bunk, he noticed that the world had turned white overnight at the rest stop. “What is shaking my truck?” he wondered. He looked outside his window and saw a big moose scratching his back on the fender of his truck. After 45 years of trucking, he thought he’d seen it all. Minutes later the moose ambled through the new snow, across the river and into the woods. He started to say, “Jen, look at this,” but as the sleep lifted, he remembered sadly that he would never share anything with her again.
He thought often about Jen. It was hard not to, even though he tried. They had been together so long. He had driven team with his wife for 43 years. His mind wandered back to that horrible morning. He remembered it as if it were yesterday. He had been driving all night while Jen slept in the bunk in back. As he approached the end of his eleven hours driving time, he had pulled over to a lonely rest area, much like this one. As he rolled into the parking spot, he said, “Jen, wake up. My eleven hours are over. Your turn to drive now, honey.” But there was no answer. The love of his life and partner for years had died quietly of a stroke in the middle of the night. That was Christmas Day, two years ago to the day. After Jen left him, he didn’t know what to do. So he sold the house and hit the road as a solo driver. He was starting the last leg of his run today on Christmas. Although Jen always had decorations and a celebration in the truck during a holiday, holidays didn’t mean much to him after Jen died. It was just another day on the road. A tear rolled through the crevices of his wrinkled face and disappeared into his white beard. Roger looked up at him with his big brown eyes. He rubbed Roger’s ears. There was something about Roger that always helped when he felt this way.
Pushing back the memories, he prepared for his run. His long white hair was blown by the snowflakes as he hopped down from his truck to do his pre trip inspection. “I’m going to need chains today,” he realized. He put on his wool coat and work gloves and opened the side door to get the chains. As he pulled the chains out, he noticed a brown box he’d never seen before. He pulled it out and recognized Jen’s writing on the outside. OPEN IN CASE OF A CHRISTMAS EMERGENCY.
“What in the world?” he thought as he opened the box. Inside was a wreath, a Santa hat, some lights to decorate the bunk and a small note. He couldn’t bear to read the note, at least not now. After he put the chains on, he looked again at the contents of the box. He fastened the wreath to the grill of his rig and decorated his bunk with the lights. As he fired up the rig he looked down at the Santa hat. “Ok, Jen, this is how you wanted it,” he said as he picked up the hat and put it on.” Roger sat up excitedly in the passenger’s seat and looked out the front. He was a true trucker’s dog. He liked to run. For the first time that morning he smiled as he shifted into gear and headed through the white snowy mountains.
He pulled off the interstate about thirty minutes after the sun went down. The flurries of snow whirled in his headlights. He had tried to call his dispatcher to let him know he was going to be late, but there was no answer. “I suppose everyone is off for Christmas back at the terminal,” he thought, “How am I going to tell the receiver that the storm made me late? I hope there is someone to unload me on the dock.”
He pulled into town, through the parking lot to the warehouse. It was dark. He backed into the dock. He climbed out of his truck and felt the cold hit his face as he walked through the snow drifts to the office door. There was a note of the door which said, “Merry Christmas!” It gave a number to call for assistance. He called the number and a lady answered the phone. “I’m sorry I’m two hours late, but the snowstorm held me up and nobody answered back at the terminal,” he said. He heard her talking to someone else in the background. “Honey, we have a driver at the warehouse on Christmas evening,” he heard her yell.” “Stay put, we’ll be right there,” she told him and hung up before he could tell her not to worry, he would just spend the night there until they arrived in the morning.
Ten minutes later, a van pulled into the lot. Out came a young man, his wife and three children in tow all bundled up for the weather. “I’m sorry,” he said, “I didn’t mean to pull you out of the house on Christmas evening.” “Nonsense,” the lady replied. “Burt, open up that warehouse and get some coffee brewing. Kids, come with me.” “This lady is a ball of fire,” he thought as he sat down at the old table in the office and put the coffee to his lips. He was amazed as he watched the entire family go to work unloading his truck. Even the kids found something to do to help. She jumped on the forklift, and the truck was unloaded in thirty minutes.
As they sat down afterwards, the lady asked, “What are you doing out on a night like this at Christmas?” “Just doing my job,” he replied. “Are you Santa?” the little girl asked. He had forgotten that he was wearing the Santa hat and that he had white hair and a white beard. “Well, of course he is,” the lady replied, “and we get to have Santa over for Christmas dinner!” How many children are that lucky?” “I hate to impose,” he replied. She looked at him with clear purpose and ordered, “Santa, get your ass in the van. This is Christmas and tonight you are part of our family.” Roger looked at her with his big brown eyes. “You too!” she said and he bounded through the snow to the van. “Hurry up, kids! The turkey’s done and we need to put more logs on the fire!” she said as they loaded up and headed to their house in the woods.
This was the first Christmas dinner he had around a table in a long time. After they finished the pumpkin pie he said, “Merry Christmas and thanks for everything. But I need to get back on the road.” As they walked to the van he noticed that the storm abated and a full moon lightened the new snow. Back at the warehouse, he reached for the door, then stopped and looked at the family, “You gave me a wonderful Christmas. I don’t know how to thank you.” “But Santa,” the little girl said as she gave him a hug, “We should be thanking you!” “Next time you are alone on Christmas, you come look us up,” the lady scolded with a sly smile.
He got in his rig and fired it up and watched the tail lights of the van move up the road. Then he remembered the note in his pocket. He slowly opened it up and read the note by the light of the Christmas lights. “Merry Christmas, honey. If for any reason we are ever apart, I want to celebrate Christmas as we always have. Know that I am always with you. I love you, Jen.
He felt her presence in a way he hadn’t in a long time. He smiled, put it in gear, and pulled out for his next pickup. Roger was sleeping on the seat. He turned on the radio and heard Karen Carpenter’s sweet angelic voice as he drove down the highway.
“Merry Christmas darling
We’re apart that’s true
But I can dream
And in my dream
I’m Christmasing with you”
“Yes, we are, honey,” he said out loud, “I love you, too.”
Copyright 2010, Tom B. Kretsinger, Jr.
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