I'll never forget the Christmas of 2010. Terrible weather, an emergency landing, lots of prayers...and Christmas Eve dinner at the Waffle House.
In the end, it was the simplest Christmas we ever had. But it didn't start out that way...
We planned a big surprise that year. John and I and Gary and Nate were going to fly to Indianapolis, where our oldest son lived with his family. We would land in Indianapolis, buy food for our traditional Christmas Eve dinner, and surprise the family by caroling to them just as it got dark. I couldn't wait.
We boarded the plane the morning of Christmas Eve and checked one large duffel bag with everyone’s presents in it. We had been in the air for about 2 hours, when we heard this over the intercom: “Folks, this is your captain speaking. I wish I had good news for you, but I do not.”...
Now, I’m pretty sure this would make the top ten list of “Things You Never Want to Hear Your Pilot Say.” Along with the next part. The electrical system on the left side of the plane had failed about 30 minutes before. And the system on the right side had just gone down, also. “So,” the pilot said, “We’re running totally on auxillary power, and something in this plane is making the power systems fail, and we can’t chance that that will happen one more time. So, we’ll be making an emergency landing as soon as possible.”
In the next very long 30-40 minutes, I thought of our two sons on the plane with us – in the prime of their lives, both college students, and two of my best friends. I thought of our only daughter, spending her first Christmas with the man she had just married in August. I thought of the little family we were going to visit. More than anyone, I thought of our missionary son in Georgia. And I prayed like I had only ever prayed one time before.
I’d read about some emergency landings before -- on crowded freeways, into wooded hillsides, or worse – neighborhoods - and I was very nervous. Then it occurred to me that we were flying over Kansas. I couldn’t see anything out of my window except for clouds, but I was pretty sure there’d be a place to land in Kansas. I pictured climbing out of the plane into a cornfield. Turns out, we didn’t have to land in a cornfield. Instead, we touched down, safe and sound, at the Kansas City Airport…..which we got to know well, because we were there for nine hours.
They finally told us the only chance we had of getting to Indianapolis the next day was to fly to Atlanta. Why? I have no idea, but that’s where we went, and when we landed, the airport was deserted, except for one poor Delta agent, trying to help 300 people. My husband asked, “Is there anyone else here?” And she answered, “It’s Christmas Eve! Everyone’s gone home.”
What a great idea….
By the time we checked in to a nearby hotel, it was 11:30 PM. We were really hungry, and the only place to eat was 2 blocks away, and it was pouring rain. So we ran, through the rain, and arrived sopping wet at the Waffle House, which advertised that it had been open for 50 years. And it looked like it. I mean, I don’t think they’d changed a thing. There were a few quiet customers scattered around the restaurant, and 3 employees working in the open kitchen, and I was pretty sure none of them wanted to be there.
I wondered how to lift the spirits of the place and make it seem at all like Christmas Eve. I spied a juke box in the corner. Music! Music would change the whole atmosphere! I figured there wouldn’t be anything religious, but maybe “Silver Bells” or “White Christmas.” No. My only choice, inexplicably, were, “Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer.” A Christmas classic. I didn't play the juke box after all.
We sat at the table and laughed until we were sick. Our food came. Here it is.
The first time in 30 years we didn't have teriyaki steak for Christmas Eve dinner. Still, we were hungry and tired, and were glad to have it.
After a very short night's sleep, we flew to Indiana the next day. Not only did we arrive much later than we had planned, but we didn't come bearing food, because the stores were all closed on Christmas day. And we didn't come bearing gifts either, because our bags had been routed, inexplicably, to Cincinnati.
But we were safe, and we were together, and it was still a surprise. We read the Christmas story, ate a simple meal, and played with the boys. We had a great time. And there wasn’t a present, a feast, or a function in sight.
And maybe that's exactly how Christmas is supposed to be.