Christmas Eve began very early as five excited elementary age children clipped their seatbelts in the family van. Dad had announced the night before that their Christmas wish was going to come true. We were going to Seattle for a Sonics game along with shopping and eating at restaurants.
Each child had the opportunity to purchase something from their favorite store. Lunch at Nordstrom was delightful with lots of attention showered on the children. After all, five red-headed children do inspire comments. Then, it was time to go to Key Arena. The game was thrilling and the Sonics won, so the day was ending perfectly. We knew the day’s excitement would produce a quiet trip home for Christmas morning with gifts under the tree. We turned on Christmas music and started back on a bare and dry Interstate 90.
Shortly before North Bend, the van jerked, slowed and quit running. My husband, distressed and puzzled, got us to the shoulder. The dozing children stirred, then huddled for warmth. We called for a tow truck from North Bend. Piling seven people in the tow truck cab was a feat, but necessary because the children were getting cold. We reached a repair shop at 5 p.m., found three men there, though they stated they would be closing soon. They quickly diagnosed the alternator as the problem and put the shop’s only one in, but it didn’t work.
We started wondering where we could go on Christmas Eve in North Bend. We knew no one and the motel wasn’t open. Thinking of Mary and Joseph, I whispered a desperate prayer. We were facing Christmas morning in a cold garage. By this time, the children had demolished the last of the snacks and were getting restless. Then, one man decided he could spare an alternator from another vehicle, but it didn’t work either. We felt we needed to let these kind-hearted men go to their families for Christmas Eve. But they were determined. One man said, “We need to get this family to Yakima.” The alternator was put in and pulled out twice more. Finally, the engine turned over. The van was running. But would it keep running all the way to Yakima? We decided we would risk it. Expressing heartfelt gratitude to the three men, we started down I-90 again. The children quickly fell asleep. My husband and I cheered ourselves with some soft Christmas music though our focus was listening to the engine. The Manashtash hill, out of Ellensburg, became a concern when the engine struggled. Going over the hills to get to Yakima was tense.
We got on Highway 12 heading west when the van sputtered again, almost stopping. We both whispered a prayer for a miracle. Slowly we drove through the silence of Yakima on Christmas morning wondering if we could make it up 40th. As the garage door went up, we collapsed back in the van seats amazed at our Christmas miracle. We had made it home for Christmas.
• Marty Lentsch lives in Yakima.