Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son,

and they shall name him Emmanuel,

which means “God is with us.”

When Joseph awoke,

he did as the angel of the Lord had commanded him

and took his wife into his home.

He had no relations with her until she bore a son,

and he named him Jesus.

And so the five celebrants found their way to a pew in the crowded church and over the next hour or so, shared the mass with the other faithful… It was a beautiful service, the altar awash with red and white poinsettias and the vestments of the priests laced with gold in a grand style that offset against the simple robes of the young altar boys …

Father Fogerty was on his best behavior, tho his cheeks bore a remarkable resemblance to a picture of the red- suited gentleman that Matty had seen on a Coke advertisement. Sister Sue noticed as well, and nudged the teenaged boy as the procession made it’s way from the altar at the end of the mass. Matty nodded and under his breath, whispered, “Meerrry Christmas!” Both siblings struggled to contain themselves, but did, and the family comported itself well, in the eyes of the Lord, that night, despite the lateness and the exhaustion that was overtaking them.

It was nearly one thirty as the final blessings were given and the throngs of worshipers left the cathedral. Most exited through the 4 massive sets of mahogany doors that emptied to the granite steps under which hot water coils had been installed to melt the ice and snow of the New England winters. Tonight, it was working it’s magic, as the tranquil night had deserted the little town… Frigid, wind -driven snow of a nor’ easter was now hurtling from every direction at the tired congregants as they made their way back to the numerous parking lots to reclaim their snow- covered cars.

“Man, it got cold!” shouted Matty, as the older kids hustled the crew along.

“This is like Alaska!” proclaimed Gerry excitedly. “We’re going to have the best Christmas, especially if we get that toboggan!”

“Yeah, if we don’t freeze to death, first!” replied the older boy…

Finally, they stood by the blue station wagon… It was amazing how much snow had accumulated on the beast in the short time it had been sitting there. Even worse tho, was the ever deepening parking lot and the bald tires on the old Chevy that were best suited to warm summer days.

Matty looked around at the chaos that had become the parking lots… Cars were slipping and sliding in the deepening snow and to make matters worse, the 2 main exits that emptied from the church parking lot, and the adjoining school parking lot, were both up- slopes… In order to get out and onto the town highway, you first had to get up the snow covered hills!

The kids piled into the blue wreck and Matty looked over at his older sister as she prepared to start the car… She looked pale and nervous. “Matty, what should I do? I don’t think we can get up that hill!”

“Yeah, well, it’ll be all right… Look, just wait for the traffic to clear. Maybe they’ll all pack the snow down and kind of plow the road for us… Then we’ll have a better shot at it! We can get a good, running start!”

“You mean, go fast? In this snow? I don’t think I can do that! It scares me, just to think about it!”

“Yeah, I know, but, if everybody is out of the way, the road will be empty and then it doesn’t matter if we slide around a little… Who cares, at that point? Nobody to crash into… just snow… And, it’s the only way we’re going to get up that hill, trust me! They don’t call these tires ‘slicks’ for no reason!!”

Gerry giggled in the back seat… “Slicks? We have slicks? Cool! Pop has a racing car!”

“Yeah, a regular Mario Andretti!” Matty snickered…”Only with a 265 cubic inch powerhouse, turbo- charged engine with 411 gears, and…”

“Matty! Stop joking! I’m scared!” Sue said, shivering… “Maybe we should just leave the car here, and walk home!”

“What? Abandon our precious limousine? What would Pop say? Heck, what would MOM say? Besides, where are we going to walk, in church shoes with the roads all snowed in. No sidewalks to walk on…”

All the talk was starting to upset the younger kids. Lucy was sniffling and looked very worried and Dianne looked frozen.

“Let’s get this heap started, at least! If we can get it warmed up, at least it will have a better chance!”

And so, with all the kids crossing their fingers, the oldest girl put the key into the ignition and turned it to the right… ‘Click’ A red dash light came on, momentarily, then vanished. She tried again, but it was futile… Not even the tiniest of ‘clicks’ could be heard from the tired car.

“Oh no! Now what? The battery’s dead!” Sue exclaimed.

“Wait a minute! How is that possible?” Matty asked. “Pop just got a battery a couple of months ago! It can’t be shot, yet!”

“Well, it doesn’t start! What else could it be?”

The teenaged boy sighed… He really wasn’t sure what had happened, but, he had learned a bit about all things mechanical, after his 7 years working on the farm. And, also on the numerous repair ‘interventions’ he had attempted with his unqualified dad on the parade of ‘heaps’ that they had owned, since he was deemed ‘aware’ by all the science books.

“Oh man.. I don’t know, but maybe I can check under the hood… Maybe something came loose. Come on Gerry, take that pen light out of your pocket, and come with me…”

“Penlight? What penlight?” the 11-year- old sheepishly asked.

“The penlight you stole from my desk drawer so that you could signal Billy across the church tonight! That penlight!”

Gerry’s jaw dropped… “You knew?”

Matty just shook his head, and got out of the car. Gerry followed, obediently.

The two brothers found their way around the parked vehicle. The snow was starting to get pretty deep in places, as the howling wind blew it in swirling sheets across the nearly empty parking lot. The hood of the car had at least three inches on it already. The rest of the car resembled a cocoon of sorts, and Matty shivered as he looked at the starkness of the sight. This wasn’t good. It was really cold, and seemed to be getting colder as he reached under the front of the frozen hood, trying to find the latch release lever. His hands were already getting numb, once he found the lever, but, he persisted and pulled on it. He felt the lever release the hood, but, because of the weight of the piled up snow, the hood barely budged… “Brush some of the snow off, Gerry! You have mittens on! Come on, it’ll help you stay warm!”

Both boys worked on the snow pile until the hood was clear and Matty was able to raise it high enough to peer into the compartment…

“The light… Shine it at the battery… No, over there! Yeah, that’s better!…. What the heck!” the stunned teenager retorted. “Visegrips? Where the hell are the battery clamps?”

Even Gerry started to laugh… Soon, both boys were howling, standing in a darkened parking lot, at nearly two o’clock in the morning in a blinding snowstorm…

Instead of the traditional battery clamps that every car on earth was equipped with, the blue monster had somehow acquired a matching set of ‘Visegrips’… One for the positive terminal, one for the negative side… Squeezed in the jaws of the marvelous pliers were the squashed ends of the cables and the now deformed battery terminals… Matty shook his head and his little brother followed suit.

In the meantime, hearing the laughter, Sue rolled down the driver’s window and queried,”What’s so funny? What’s going on?”

“Oh, just the usual… Dear old dad made one of his unique installations with the new battery… Listen, turn the ignition key to the right, just a little, OK? Don’t try to start the car, until I tell you. Just tell me if you see any lights, OK?”

“OK, then what?”

“Nothing… Just tell me if you see any dash lights..”

So, the lanky junior mechanic, took hold of the ‘Visegrips’ on the ‘hot’ side of the battery and gave them a little twist.

“Lights!! I see red lights!” shouted a jubilant Sue.

“OK, then… Try to start her!”

The boys stood back and in an instant, the car roared to life, and once again, the sweet aroma of raw gasoline filled the air. Matty hurriedly slammed the steel hood, and the brothers made their way back into the frozen interior. But, at least the blowing snow was outside!

“Hey, turn the windshield wipers on. The snow’s already covered the window!”Matty exclaimed.

But, like everything else in the stubborn car, the switch did nothing, and it became evident that there would be no wipers for the journey home. A journey that was looking more uncertain with every passing moment.

“I don’t believe this! Does anything in this car work right?” the bewildered driver asked.

“Nope!” was Matty’s simple response. “Forget all that! Gerry, reach into the back of the car… I saw an old umbrella back there, a blue one…get it for me- I’ll be the windshield wipers for the trip back…”

Gerry struggled for a while, trying to sort through the tools and sundries behind the rear seat, but after a fashion, managed to come up with the umbrella. It was a miracle! Now, there was nothing stopping them. It was now or never, and after a bit of coaxing, the oldest girl got her nerves under control and managed to get the car moving, in the tracks created by the previous parishioners. But, she was being too timid, so the boys chastised her until she reached a better speed and was heading up the hill with at least a chance.

It was all good, for most of the way… As they reached the apex of the hill, the car started to slow, and it was at that moment that Matty knew they were in trouble… The frozen look of panic on his older sister’s face was enough to tell the story. Before he could make a suggestion, she hit the gas, and the bald tires started to spin, losing whatever purchase they had on the slick surface, and the car started to slow…

“No, don’t… Let the tires grab… Let off on the pedal…”

But, it was too late… The car was only five feet from the top of the hill when, somehow the tires grabbed, just as the panicked driver started to lay off the gas pedal… The car lurched, and cleared the end of the driveway apron, and then accelerated on the new downslope. It would have been OK, except the young collegiate overcompensated, hit the brakes and turned the steering wheel severely to the left to try to maneuver the car onto the deserted highway.

Instead, it hurtled towards the giant snow bank on the opposite side of the road.

The three girls in the car screamed in unison, nearly deafening the two brothers as the blue, steel rocket plowed it’s nose into the glistening pile of snow.

Well, at least the hill had been defeated! But, the consequence of the courageous action was the annihilation of the last residue of confidence in the college freshman…

“Oh my God! I wrecked the car! What are we going to do? I can’t believe this is all happening on Christmas! Oh my God!”

“Yeah… you already said that,” muttered Matty. “Oh, and you can’t wreck a wreck, you know what I mean? Calm down! We’ll get out of this! All we did was plow into a stupid snow bank! At least we got up the hill! If we can get out of the snowbank, it’s all downhill.”

“How are we going to do that? Some kind of Christmas miracle?”

“Uh… No. The miracle is that we made it up the hill, even tho you hit the gas at the wrong time… Now, a prayer or two wouldn’t hurt, but I think our miracle chips are spent. Gerry, is there a shovel back there?”

Once again, the penlight came on, this time searching for something that wasn’t there, but, at least there was an odd piece of plywood, suitable to a degree for the shoveling task that was now required. So, the boys once again exited the still running car, leaving a few suggestions behind.

“I’ll try to dig the snow away from in back of the tires… See if you can get the heat to work… My hands are frozen already! Me and Gerry will get us dug out- whatever you do, don’t put it in gear or mess with the gas pedal, OK? I don’t need to be flattened after all of this!”

Sue nodded, her hands still shaking. She seemed to be in shock…

It took about 15 minutes to get the snow boulders broken away and the icy remnants of the first storm sufficiently cleared away from the bald tires. Not a soul was in sight on the barren road, as Matty returned to the lukewarm car with Gerry.

“DDone,” he said, shivering. He held his hands as close as he could to the heater vent. His sister didn’t say a word.

“OK, then, let’s get out of here! I’ll do the wiper thing with the umbrella. Just let me warm up a second… OK, now, If you put it in reverse, and slowly release…”

“Matty… I can’t…”

“Huh? Whatta ya mean, you can’t?”

I can’t! I’m shaking too much, just thinking about it! I just know I’m going to end up crashing the car with all of us in it, only this time it might be a telephone pole or something really bad…”

Lucy started to whimper in the back seat.

“Whoa! We’re not going to crash! That’s crazy! It’s all straight roads from here to the house! So, let’s just get going, before we get snowed in again…”

“Matty, you’re going to have to drive… I really can’t… I can’t think of anything but that crash! Anyways, you’ve been driving since you were seven… You know how to drive in mud and slippery conditions, better than me! Please!!”

The blond haired boy shook his head in disbelief but finally agreed. “OK, OK… I guess I can. It’s not like there are any cops out here to help us, anyways…”

“Policemen…” came the refrain from the younger boy.

“Yeah… right. Thanks for the imput, Gerry. I hope Santa brings you everything you want…”

Gerry stopped talking and sat quietly for once. Matty got out of the car again and went to the driver’s side and got in, as his sister moved across to the other side of the bench seat.

‘She was right, tho’, Matty thought, he HAD spent a long time behind the wheels of just about every piece of machinery on the farm as he grew through the past 7 years… There had been countless times where his skills were tested and honed on much more difficult pieces of steel to handle than this dilapidated hunk of metal!

And so, he sighed and put the car into reverse, and carefully edged his way out of the snow bank. After a little rocking and tire spinning, suddenly they were free! A cheer wafted from the entire crew as he straightened the car, engaged second gear, and steered it south towards the little red Cape, with the lighted Christmas tree and the anxious family that sat waiting for them. It was not a miracle that brought them home, but in many ways it was the faith in his 15 -year- old heart that made Matty’s path clear on that cold and snowy Christmas so long ago…. One he will cherish forever.

Continued in the next remembrance, ‘The Trap’

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