Oh, man. Oh yeah. My dogs are barking,” actor John Candy portraying Del Griffith, told Steve Martin, in “Planes, Trains and Automobiles,” a movie tradition that my wife Brenda and I have watched every Thanksgiving for the last 25 years.
Stranded in a snowstorm, Candy and Martin are having difficulty making it home to Chicago for Thanksgiving. Their plane is detoured to Wichita due to the heavy snow, and their Amtrak train blows billowing black smoke, leaving them stranded in the Kansas wilderness.
They finally make it home after riding for miles in the back of a refrigerated tractor trailer rig.
Brenda and I are like Candy and Martin in the sense we have a Christmas tradition that involves snow and public transportation.
At the first sign of a sustained snowfall we hop in the car and head to a metropolitan city, Dayton, Cincinnati or Columbus, for a bus ride downtown in the snow. There was, and is, something special about sitting on the front seat of the bus, watching people getting on and off as we made our way along the snowy streets.
Brenda and I boarded the bus on Far Hills Avenue in Kettering, and took our seats behind the driver. It was snowing heavily, the large flakes sticking to the windshield as the large wipers worked overtime, moving the snow to the sides of the window, and onto the ground.
We talked about the recent Thanksgiving and how thankful we were for all the many blessings God has given us. We talked about our families.
“Rita and I are the only two left from the original seven members of the Haley family from Port William,” I said.
“Brother Dick and I are the only two left in our family, too,” Brenda said. “Mother and Dad, brother Danny, sisters Patti and Glenda are all gone now.”
“The clock continues to tick away and it is important for us to spend as much time together as possible. We may not be able to be together every day, but when we are, we want to go to concerts, basketball games, enjoy dinner when we can, and just be there for each other,” I said, and Brenda concurred.
December has been an eventful month for our family.
The best and most loved Christmas gift I was ever given occurred on Dec. 24, 1971 at Fayette Memorial Hospital in Washington Court House, when my son, Greg, was born. His birth changed my life.
My brother, Jack, was born in December, too. He died peacefully 77 years later — four years ago this week. A week after Jack died, a cardinal landed on our front porch and visited us throughout the winter, sometimes during the day, but most often at night, perched on the top of the pillars.
Perhaps the cardinal was a sign from God that Jack was in heaven and all was well. I like to think so.
The bus stopped at Whipp Road and an elderly gentleman slowly climbed up the steps and took a seat across from us.
He smiled and asked in a deep southern draw, “How are you folks this afternoon? Isn’t this snow pretty?”
He went on to say how the snow and bus reminded him of when he was a kid and his bus rides in Charleston, W.Va., when he used to go Christmas shopping.
“I moved to Dayton in ‘48 to go to work at NCR. I used to ride the bus back and forth to work,” he said.
Brenda and I looked at each other, smiled, and settled back in our warm seats.
“We were as poor as could be, but being with our happy family in the West Virginia mountains was the best feeling in the world to me at Christmas,” he said. “I’m 83 years old, and I still dream about Christmas with my family. We would receive an apple and orange and be glad to get them.”
He said his daddy and mommy and his seven brothers and sisters sang carols around the Christmas tree every Christmas Eve.
“My daddy would pour a little whiskey in the egg nog while my mommy cooked a big ol’ turkey in the kitchen, and her dressing was special,” he said with a sigh.
His eyes began to well-up as he continued.
“My mommy’s pies were like no other. She loved to set the table, light the candles, pass the turkey, cranberry sauce, and pumpkin pie around the table,” he said, his voice thickening. “We always had plenty. I heard a song one time that said, ‘I’ll bet that even Santa spends an extra moment there.’”
“I bet he did,” I said, as Brenda and I grinned and nodded at the elderly gentleman and walked to the door of the bus and stepped off. I bet he did.
Pat Haley is a Clinton County commissioner and former Clinton County sheriff.