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A light for weary travelers at Christmas

Published on 23 November 2016

A few years ago during a visit on Christmas Day, my dad and I started talking about holidays long gone by. After an hour or so of his familiar yarns, I asked what Christmas was like in the Army.

There was one Christmas that especially stood out, he said. It was his first year after basic training, stationed at Fort Ord, California. The company was conducting some intensive drills in the mountains, days before Christmas.

A rare snowstorm in the Monterey hills was made worse when the supply jeep didn’t deliver sleeping bags and tents. So they slept in the snow. And the first gift Pvt. James Gary Cooper got that Christmas was walking pneumonia.

The drills finished a couple days later and the squad returned to the base, only to discover they were assigned to clean the barracks. Their holiday furlough delayed another day, they “G.I. scrubbed” the place down quickly and packed their bags.

Dad and three friends crammed into his car and were determined to drive all night from California to Utah by taking turns behind the wheel.

That got them as far as Las Vegas, where the car threw a piston. So they pooled their money for an old engine replacement and waited another 12 hours. With the car fixed, they headed north, only to get as far as Lehi before the car died again, this time with a bad timing chain.

Knowing defeat, they pushed the car to the roadside, pulled their bags and went their separate ways. Dad hitchhiked up to Ogden and caught the last bus on Christmas Eve. When he arrived home to Cache Valley, it was close to midnight and below 0.

And yet, the frigid air and clear moonlit skies gleaming over the Wellsville Mountains stirred some warm excitement in his shivering body.

Walking through the hollows below the dairy barn, snow crunching under his boots along the familiar cow trail, his exhaustion lifted as the light from the house kitchen shined ahead. He stepped through the back door and surprised his mom.

He was unrecognizable: an exhausted boy with a crude Army haircut, crumpled uniform, burning fever and unshaven face. But when he smiled, she saw it was her son, pulled him close, and began to cry.

The first Christmas story tells of many miracles and wonders, with shepherds, angels, new stars and wise men from afar. To me, the real miracle is the journey. Two weary travelers, an expectant mother and husband, making an exhausting 90-mile pilgrimage to their ancestral home.

The scriptures say, “The days were accomplished that she should be delivered …” Truly this was no light task but rather a passage only “accomplished” with mercy and guidance along the way.

Our journey through this life is no different. Our road winds through loss, struggle and pain but there is always light ahead leading us home.

Merry Christmas, friends. May your roads this season lead to the one true light and a welcome home.  end mark

David Cooper
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