Winter. The year is 1949. The war has been over for a while, but it’s still fresh on everyone’s minds. Which is why people are having babies like crazy. War does that to people.
This new generation of babies will be known as the Baby Boomers, and each day they are being born by the truckload. These children will grow up one day and change the world by inventing revolutionary things such as DNA fingerprinting, the World Wide Web, the portable dialysis machine, and Donny Osmond.
But not all babies are lucky enough to be born into good lives. By which I mean that some babies have fathers who don’t want them. One woman—I will call her Macy—was pregnant with a baby like that.
So Macy’s mother did what lots of small-town mothers did in those days, she sent Macy away. Macy was supposed to go live with her aunt in Illinois, but it didn’t work out. So Macy tried Kansas City. That didn’t work either. And this brings us to the beginning of our story.
Macy was alone. And penniless. Without a friend in the world. If we were to describe her situation with the blunt terms that my grandfather might have used: “Macy didn’t have a pot to [ugly word] in, or a [ugly word] window to throw it out of.”
She used her last few bucks to buy a bus ticket to Omaha, because she believed that this was a place where she could make a better life. Maybe nobody would ask questions about illegitimate babies in Omaha. Maybe nobody would bat an eye if she told them she was a widow.
So her bus was purring along when some very crummy weather hit. The weather went from snowstorm to deathstorm in only a few hours. History would later remember this weather system as one of the century’s worst blizzards to hit the Plains.
The bus rolled through several miles of snow until the horizon became totally invisible. The driver finally pulled over at a filling station that had a parking lot filled with cars taking shelter.
Macy stayed on the bus to wait it out. But the weather kept getting worse. And worse. It was like Armageddon only without the fanfare.
You want to talk about scared? Macy was scared half to death. And you know what they say; you don’t want to get scared half to death twice.
Some of the other passengers were freaking out, too. Snow started to pile up around the windows and blocked out the sunlight. The snow just kept coming, it was not looking hopeful. And to quote Shakespeare: They were basically screwed.
Things couldn’t have been much worse for Macy. So let’s review before I tell you the rest of the story:
—Middle of nowhere.
I just wanted to make sure you were still with me.
Macy was sitting in the back seat when something happened. The floorboards beneath her were suddenly drenched in a splash of water. And I mean lots of fluid. She looked at her dress. It was soaked.
The kid in the seat ahead of her was a young man who saw what was happening. He sprang into action.
“It’s coming!” said Macy.
This boy was a college student, attending school to become an English major, of all things. But in the heat of the moment, boys do what they have to do. He told Macy a lie. He said he was studying to become a doctor, just to put her at ease. He said he would deliver this baby.
“Are you sure you know what you’re doing?” Macy asked.
“Relax!” he said. “I’ve delivered hundreds of babies!”
A crowd gathered around her. An old woman held Macy’s hand. A man fanned her with a newspaper. The driver prayed the Rosary. And there, on a snow-beaten prairie, a young English major in steel-rimmed glasses helped bring a baby boy into the world.
And I’ll bet it was magic. Just think about what it must have been like for an ordinary passenger on this bus.
You’re stranded. Hungry. Thirsty. The wind is howling around you. The bus lights are dim. People are smoking cigarettes. And in the back seat, a woman is screaming at the top of her lungs, pouring sweat, veins popping in her forehead.
Then, her shouting stops. And you hear a little high-pitched voice crying. And people are clapping. You see few men shaking hands and passing around a flask. Someone is even playing a harmonica. Everyone is hugging.
So you go in for a better look. You see a lot of blood and guts. It looks like a hog killing just happened. And you see a young college boy, holding a baby. Proudly.
And everyone is taking turns rocking the child. Blue-collars, white-collars, red and yellow, black and white. And everyone is so happy. Because no matter what history says about the horrific storm outside, beautiful things do happen in ugly places.
And when you are old and feeble, and you find yourself in a nursing home, you will remember this tale. And one day, a redheaded writer will stop by to visit your next-door neighbor. Even though he’s not there to talk to you, you will grab his arm and say, “I have a story for you, young man.
So you’ll tell it. You’ll tell it all. And when you finish, you’ll be smiling. And so will the young man. And the young writer will say to this old woman, “That was a pretty good story.”
To which this woman will wink and say, “If you thought that was good, you oughta hear the one about Bethlehem.”