George and Mary Jean Parks bundled their three little ones into the car: Lee, the only one in school; Roger, the all-boy middle child; and Nina, still a bassinet baby. Loaded with luggage, packages, and food for the road, they were heading south from Minnesota. It was Christmas Eve. They were expected in Bradford, a central Illinois farming community, that evening.
In Bradford, Cathy and Sandy tried to stay awake, sometimes pressing their noses to the glass of the front window, hoping their little cousins would hurry up. Mary and Alvin left the porch light on and kept vigil all night for their family who never arrived.
Far away, the Parks were knee-deep in troubles of their own.
Everyone wishes for a Currier and Ives Christmas scene complete with snow and frozen ponds and plenty of wood for the fireplace, provided, of course, they’re already at home. When traveling through that snow and ice, the scene becomes less idyllic. George and Mary Jean were driving in the worst blizzard they had ever seen, and they lived in Minnesota!
George literally inched his way along the two-lane farm roads, struggling to see through the windshield, guessing whether or not he was on the road. Unexpectedly, through the dark and the fierce snow, they spotted the lights of a distant farmhouse and knew they could go no further. George pulled the car beside an accumulating snowdrift and trudged up the lane toward the inviting lights.
The quiet farmer hardly seemed surprised to see a stranger at his door. Inviting him in, the farmer listened while he explained the situation. Soon George was ushering his family into the house. The farmer’s wife welcomed them into their home and found a place for their wet boots, hats, and overcoats.
The two families got acquainted around the table while the farmer’s wife fixed something for the travelers to eat leftover pot-roast sandwiches. Soon there was a knock at the door; another family needed sanctuary from the storm. Again, they were welcomed and the pot roast was stretched to feed a few more.
Guests that night slept everywhere—a sofa, an easy chair, and every floor space available. Somehow there were blankets enough to go around.
The next morning, Christmas Day, dawned with a house full of strangers who had been drawn together by the surreal Christmas Eve and a set of lights. They shook hands, said their good-byes and hearty thanks, and continued on their journeys, each to his own delayed Christmas celebration with a story to tell.
The Parks family saw the farmer and his family twice more; always in the summertime and always with a jar of Grandpa’s honey. They corresponded at Christmas for a few years, but their names have since been lost to time.
The story, however, remains. Lee, Roger, and Nina have told it to their children, no doubt. Now, remembering that Christmas Eve, they remember finding room at the inn.