Christmas I Remember Best: Unlikely heroes save stranded family on Christmas Eve, 1955

By Wilma Tagg

For the Deseret News

Published: Saturday, Dec. 24 2011 7:22 p.m. MST

Some unlikely heroes came to the rescue of a family in Montana on Christmas Eve, 1955.

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Editor's note: This is the final of six winners in The Deseret News' annual Christmas writing contest, "Christmas I Remember Best." See the first winner here, the second winner here, the third winner here, the fourth winner here and the fifth winner here.

How does a little family of four, including a sick child and a baby, happen to find themselves very late on Christmas eve on a cold, windy, 40-below-zero night, on a lonely Montana highway, with a flat tire, and a car that won't start?

It's like this, just the day before Christmas Eve, 1955, I started coming down with a very bad case of homesickness. My husband Mel, myself, and our two little boys, Jimmy (nearly three) and Gary (not yet one year), had moved from Canada to Pocatello, Idaho, a few months previously where Mel had accepted a position as a seminary teacher for the LDS Church. Mel had graduated from the University of Alberta, Canada, the previous spring, and we were excited with his new assignment in Pocatello.

Notwithstanding our desire to spend Christmas with our families who lived in Cardston, just across the border into Alberta, we had previously determined that this year we would start a new Christmas tradition and celebrate Christmas in our own home, just the four of us. Our tree was decorated and our spare money spent on gifts, but I just suddenly wanted to go back home to Canada.

Mel, ever accommodating, swallowed his misgivings and agreed that we should go. The 24th of December was a beautiful sunny day in Pocatello when we headed out early in the morning north to Canada. All was clear sailing the first couple of hours, but as we moved into the mountains of Montana, our problems began. It started to snow, and by the time we reached Butte, it was coming down so heavy that the road north out of Butte was closed to all vehicles without chains on the tires. We had not anticipated this extra expense, but there was nothing we could do except purchase chains.

The next problem that presented itself was that Jimmy started coughing and running a high temperature. Now we had a sick boy on our hands. The heavy snow held us up so much that we arrived in Great Falls in the late evening about the time we had anticipated being in Canada. By this time the temperature had fallen to about 40 degrees below zero. To make the situation even more precarious, our little '48 Chevy had a gas heater which only put out a minimum amount of heat unless we slowed down and let the fuel go for heat instead of travel. We had to stop periodically to let the car warm up.

This was not too much of a problem until we stopped for gas in Great Falls and discovered that the generator had stopped working. Now we could no longer stop the car and expect it to be able to start again. This situation became really serious when over an hour out of Great Falls we had a flat tire, and when we stopped the car the motor stopped.

So, this is how it happened that our family found ourselves on Christmas Eve in the above mentioned precarious situation.

Now we come to the evidence of the tender Christmas mercies of a loving Heavenly Father for our family. We hadn't seen another car on the road for about an hour, but as Mel was getting ready to get out and change the tire, we gratefully saw lights coming up the highway behind us. Two rather battered cars with California licenses pulled up, one right behind us and one in front of us. Out of these vehicles jumped seven or eight of the biggest black men we had ever seen. They surrounded our car, jumping and gyrating around doing all kinds of gymnastics. It was a little frightening to us at first until we realized they were trying to keep warm and they were there to help.

After determining our problem, they urged Mel to get back in the car. Then they quickly changed our tire, pushed us to get us started and stayed with us until we were across the border into a service station in the town of Coutts, Alberta.

Our next tender mercy was a very kind mechanic who got out of bed in the middle of the night on Christmas Eve, came down to his service station and repaired our car for us.

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