From Chicken Soup for the Mother's Soul

Joy to the World

The pains began as a dull ache deep in the pit of my stomach. I didn’t take them seriously. After all, it was Christmas Eve, my baby wasn’t due until February, and there was a lot to do. Probably something I ate, I told myself.

That year, 1973, my husband, Bill, and I were celebrating our first Christmas in a small Maine town, a few miles from the base where Bill, a career Air Force man, was stationed. Our parents were far away, but I had planned cherished holiday customs from both families—his mother’s chestnut stuffing, my mother’s Yorkshire pudding, his family’s ritual of decorating the tree the night before Christmas, my family’s tradition of attending midnight Mass.

One thing I hadn’t planned on was the weather. All afternoon, snow had been falling steadily—giant feather-like flakes that blanketed the earth in cold silence. It had taken Bill over an hour to drive the 10 miles home from the base, which was shrouded in fog. As a result, we decided to stay home by the fire rather than go out to midnight Mass.

The house smelled of stuffing and pine. Carols played on the stereo, and logs crackled merrily in the fireplace. Everything was picture-perfect. There were only two problems. My upset stomach was getting worse, and so was the snowstorm.

At about seven o’clock, Bill and I had a light supper— mainly indigestion medicine for me. Then we started decorating the tree with bright red and gold balls I had purchased the day before. Just as I was stretching to fix the star to the top branch, a searing pain ripped down my back and I let out a scream.

Bill rushed to my side and helped me to the bathroom. My water had broken, and I was in active labor. “But it’s too early!” I mumbled in disbelief, while my husband frantically tried to time the contractions. Each one seemed to merge with the next, following no particular pattern.

“We’d better get to the hospital while we still can,” said Bill, remembering the weather.

“Maybe it’s a false alarm?” I gasped, as the tidal wave of pain subsided.

“We’re going anyway,” he said.

Bill helped me into my coat and carried me to where our car was parked. By that time, the snow had changed to frozen rain. I brought along some old towels to sit on; he tucked a warm afghan around me and slipped in behind the wheel. The engine started nicely, but we had several tense minutes as the tires spun and skidded, trying to get a grip on the ice.

Eventually they caught and we were on our way. To calm us both, Bill turned on the radio. The uplifting, familiar strains of “Joy to the World” filled the car. It was as if an invisible choir was singing to us in the dark, but it did little to quiet my pain and rising fear.

The nearest town lay in a valley six miles away. From there, the base hospital was another four miles—and weather conditions were treacherous. The car struggled through driving sleet and pockets of dense fog as we inched our way downhill. It was impossible to see a foot in front of us on the two-lane road.

“Am I over the line?” asked Bill, switching off the radio. He leaned forward and peered into the dark. “God, I can’t see a thing!”

He did not mean it as a prayer, but now I realize it was just that. We could see no traffic behind or ahead of us, but suddenly, from out of nowhere, an old station wagon with a distinctive silhouette passed us on the left. Instead of going on, however, the driver slowed down, his rear lights showing us the way down the hill. Wherever he was going, we would go; we had no choice.

The station wagon slowly led us off the road and into the parking lot of a church on the outskirts of a nearby town. Through the fog I could make out parked cars and the blurred gold rectangle that was the church door. We followed the wagon across the lot to the front of the rectory, where we came to a stop. The wagon continued on and out the other side of the lot.

Bill rushed out of our car and into the rectory to get help. The priests were already in the church to conduct midnight Mass, but the housekeeper was still there and knew just what to do. After calling for an ambulance, she helped Bill maneuver me into the back seat and then stationed herself at my side. Five minutes later our tiny daughter was born to the strains of “Joy to the World” coming from the church. By the time the ambulance arrived, she was 10 minutes old, small and perfect. Her bald head peeked from the priest’s sweater we had wrapped around her as a swaddling cloth.

The housekeeper, a maternal take-charge type, insisted on coming with me in the ambulance to the nearest hospital, while Bill followed in our car. “The fathers can get their own breakfast for once,” the housekeeper said, winking.

She smiled down at the little bundle in my arms. “You can call her Carol,” she suggested “or maybe Noelle or Gloria.”

“I think we’ll call her Joy,” I said, thinking of the song that had accompanied me throughout this eventful night. “And maybe Dorothy for a middle name—after my mother.”

The housekeeper approved. “Dorothy means ‘gift of God,’” she said.

It wasn’t until several hours later, on Christmas morning, that I remembered to ask about the driver who had led us down the hill. We had had no time to thank him before he disappeared after doing his good deed.

“I wonder who he was,” I said to the housekeeper, describing the distinctive old station wagon in the hope that she would recognize it as belonging to a parishioner. But she had no clue, nor did any of the other townspeople we talked to later. Yet the driver had known exactly where to lead us.

Over the years, friends have suggested that perhaps we were visited by an angel that night. Perhaps we were. Some things can never be explained. But whether our mysterious driver was human or divine, one thing I do believe—God was with us that night our daughter, Joy, was born to the world.

W. Shirley Nunes

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