By John R. Greenwood
When men you are responsible for hit a health speed-bump you have to practice what you preach and help fill the void. When you’ve spent 40 years working in every aspect the milk business has to offer, you understand there will be missed holidays. When you’ve been married for 42 years your wife knows what you are about to tell her by the look on your face. Unfortunately the magic wand you use to fix everyone’s problems doesn’t always work when you need it most. That was the case this Christmas.
My Christmas morning would begin at 1am and include a tractor and a trailer. I would spend the day picking up milk from dairy farms in two counties. Because my time driving the eighteen wheeler is rare, the hardest part for me is backing the trailer into the milk receiving bay. It’s tight and challenging. I’m much better preaching about safe following distances than I am backing up a tractor and trailer. Don’t judge me.
By 1:45am I had my equipment pre-tripped, my milk sample cooler filled with ice and I was headed out to my first farm. It was eerily quiet as I pulled out of the plant and on to the highway. I hadn’t passed one car on my way to work and there were none in sight now. As I rumbled through the streets of Saratoga Springs I was able to savor the smorgasbord of red, white, and green Christmas lights. Some were blinking, some glowed bright against the black of night. I had visions of children with their pillows tucked up under their heads, smiling in their sleep, dreaming of remote-controlled drones, and electronic talking kittens. I imagined pockets of exhausted parents still wrapping and assembling toys, sipping something hot or cold, and sneaking one of Santa’s cookies. With empty streets and minus the distraction of any traffic it was like watching a Christmas movie without sound, screen-less and vivid. My pulse slowed and my heart filled. My breathing smoothed and all my aches and pains disappeared. I felt like I’d received a precious gift, a priceless gift. Suddenly having to work on Christmas turned from regret to gratitude. I felt grateful for my family, my job, and my life. The radio was off but the words to “Silent Night” were filling the cab of my truck. All was calm, all was bright.
To say I was at ease would be putting it mildly. It was much more than that. Throughout the night memories of Christmas’ past began streaming through my head. Those earliest Christmas mornings when the excitement is so high you felt as though you might burst with joy. The feeling you got when you peeled back the wrapping paper covered with chubby snowmen and saw they had been hiding the slot car set you never thought Santa would bring. The warmness you felt later that night when you put on the new flannel pajamas your grandparents gave you. At the time you smiled politely and said thank you but quickly set them aside and began digging for something larger and heavier. Once you hit the jackpot. Santa brought a gift so big he had to lean it against the wall with a big ribbon, its steel runners impatiently waiting for a trip to the nearest snow crusted hill. I never remember a bad Christmas as a child. I thank all the Santa’s in my life for that. I was fortunate as a child. I’m fortunate as an adult. Six decades of Christmas memories swirled around and around my head as I went from farm to farm that day. I felt a flood of gratitude for everything life had placed in front of me. Having to work on Christmas Day was not a burden for me it was a gift.
It was a long day. It was a good day. Traveling the backroads of rural New York on Christmas Day is something that sticks to your ribs. I felt like I was driving through one of those vintage Christmas cards. One with a scene of a farmhouse on a hillside covered with fresh snow. The big red barn off to the side with a yellow glow coming from the windows. Out back in the field cows are huddled together like a football team. A flock of procrastinating geese can be seen cresting the trees in search of a soft cornfield. The family dog standing firm, like a statue barking a friendly tune, letting you know there’s no need to be worried he’s just glad to have someone to talk to. The neighborhood kids gathered on Bacon Hill filling the toboggan one by one, arms wrapped tightly around one another, the way the world should be. It begins to snow in my Christmas card. Big cotton ball flakes begin floating down like fall leaves. My truck sees a snow coated road ahead and it surges with glee knowing it will be the first to make fresh tracks through an empty valley. Presents surround me this beautiful Christmas morning. My family is back at home but in my head visions of them warm me like the embers of a wood stove.
I know there is much sadness and pain during the holiday season. Not everyone is blessed with bounty. I do not let that thought pass. I embrace my own good fortune while at the same time actively pray for the relief of others.
When you finish this piece and speed off, remember to take a moment to appreciate everything around you. Whether its family, health, work, or a new pair of socks, if you're here to experience it, you owe it to yourself to stop and reflect on it. I did this Christmas. At each farm I visited I paused for a second, took in the scenery and silence, took in a deep breath, and thanked the person who’s birthday this was for and for all I’d been blessed with.
Time to go home.
Merry Christmas and Happy New Year…