I took a deep breath and looked around me to survey the situation. There was about a foot of snow on the ground. It was beautiful clear night, but the temperature was close to zero. The kids were all sleeping soundly and the smoke had stopped poring out from under the hood. I figured now that the engine was dead, it had no reason to smoke.
Teen Son moved about groggily and mumbled, "What's going on?" I told him, "Oh not much. The van is dead and we're stranded on the side of the road." "Oh, okay," he responded and went back to sleep.
What little calm I had was broken when I realized I had no idea where I was and there was no sign of civilization. Just masses of farm fields and an empty commercial building. What do I do?
Then it came to me, "I have a cell phone!" You see, I wasn't a cell phone owner in those days and really had no clue about them. However, just as I was leaving with the kids the previous week for our trip, Rob handed one to me saying, "I just had an employee quit and there's still a few weeks left on the contract. Take the phone in case of emergency." Now, if that isn't a sign that angels watch over me, I don't know what is!
I rummaged through my purse, found it, and actually figured out how to make a call. So, I call Rob. And I get the answering machine! Frantically, I left a rambled message, "Rob! Where are you? Why aren't you answering the phone! The van is dead and I'm in the middle of Nowheresville with a foot of snow with seven kids and its cold! Where are you!"
Now panic was yet again rearing it's ugly head. "What do I do? Triple A! I have Triple A!" Back to my purse rummaging, this time searching for the AAA card. Contents of my purse strewn about the floor of my van, I found it and sighed a huge sigh of relief. I dialed the number, imagining my hero on the other end of the line. Instead, I got, "I'm sorry. This is Michigan AAA; you need to call Indiana AAA. Let me give you the number." I couldn't find a pen, nor anything to write on. Finally, a crayon showed itself and I used my arm as a writing pad.
I call Indiana AAA and get, "All operators are now busy. Please hold the line and someone will be with you shortly." Then the muzak came on.
Now, one would think that AAA would have nice peaceful music since the people calling are often in emergency situations. But, no, not when I call. No, they were playing loud, obnoxious heavy metal. It was too much. I couldn't take it. I reached for the now-empty cappuccino cup and . . . well, I won't describe it for you. Let's just say was feeling sick to my stomach. Just at that moment, the AAA lady picked up the line, "AAA may I help . . . OH MY GOSH! Are you okay!"
"No, I'm not okay. I'm in the middle of nowhere. I have no idea where I am. My van was on fire, but now it's just dead. I've got seven little kids in the car and it's freezing outside. No, I'm not okay!"
God bless this woman, I still pray for her to this day (as well as the other people you'll meet in this story down the road). She was so sweet and calming. She said, "Don't worry. Everything is going to be okay. I'm here to help you and we're going to get you someplace warm and safe. Now, look up and all around you. Tell me if you see any signs at all."
I looked up and right smack in front of my face was a sign: Exit 0. I told her that I thought I was about 10 miles south of Fort Wayne and I described the highway that I had exited onto. Much to my relief, she exclaimed, "I've found you on the map! I know right where you are." Thank you Jesus. Now, prayers of thanksgiving came.
The AAA lady said she would call me back in a little bit with a tow truck and taxi bus. But, I had no idea the cell phone number and I wasn't even sure how to answer a cell phone. (Oh, I was so 20th century in those days!)
I hung up and just at that moment, a semi truck was driving my way. I tried to roll down the electric window to flag him down, but all the power in the van was completely gone. There would be no heat, no radio, no nothing as we sat there waiting. The truck went on pass me.
Then the baby began to fuss. I took him to nurse. A calm began to overtake me. Babies and nursing have a way of doing that. I began to pray, "Dear Jesus, if I have faith in you then I have to know that you're going to take care of me and my children. Everything is going to be okay and you're going to help me out of this situation. Thank you Jesus for loving me. I trust that everything is going to be okay." My panic was gone.
After Baby was finished, but still awake, I felt the urge to, well, go to the bathroom. One of those urges that couldn't be ignored. Perhaps the stress of the situation brought it on. I woke up my 11-year-old daughter to hold the baby while I ran out. There I was -- climbing down a ravine in a foot of snow. What a sight! Then, a car approached. I ran up the ravine, into the street to flag the car down, as I'm zipping up my pants. I'm sure those people were thinking, "Oh joy! There's someone we can help!" Not.
The passenger rolled down her window just a crack. I explained my van broke down and I wanted to make sure that the AAA lady had my location right. The passenger said, "We're not from around here and don't know where we are either." She hurriedly rolled up the window and they took off.
I climbed back into the van and called the AAA lady back. She said, "You're just far enough out of Fort Wayne and it's just enough past eleven that I'm having trouble finding help for you. Hang in there, call me back again in 20 minutes.
This scenario played itself out a couple more times, when finally, around 12:30, I called her and she had good news.
The Highway Patrol was on it's way. The Calvary was coming. I began to wake all the children and explained the situation. They were groggy enough that they had no clue the severity of the situation.
Soon, two Highway Patrol cars pulled up and . . .
To be continued tomorrow.