A Yuletide Yarn
I was five years old during the Christmas season of 1959, growing up on a potato farm in Aroostook County in northern Maine. My Aunt Polly was engaged to a Massachusetts fellow whom the family had never met. Gordon, a tall thin man with a peculiar accent, showed up that Yuletide so that we could get to know him.
One age-old way for a new beau to impress a family was to please the children. They in turn would work on the adults to accept him. This was Gordy's strategy. And so on the snowy afternoon before Christmas he asked all of us kids to go bowling with him.A problem soon became evident: Gordon drove a red VW Beetle with a sunroof. There were six kids ranging in age from five to twelve, all anxious to go. He couldn't possibly disappoint us, which meant we were forced to get creative with the seating arrangements. We all piled in the car, the oldest two riding shotgun in the front and the rest standing in the back seat with the heads of the taller ones protruding through the hole in the roof.
The bowling was fun, although the rented bowling shoes were two inches too long for my feet. But I did manage to knock down a pin after eight tries. We declared the trip a success after Gordy bought us all hot dogs and sodas. He was already one of the family as far as we were concerned.
We again packed into the VW and headed for home when someone suggested that it might be a good idea to visit our cousins, a mere nine-mile detour. Of course, Gordy couldn't say no.
It was almost dark when once more we piled into the little red car. Gordon was concerned about the late hour, having promised to get us home before dark. Therefore, it was easy to convince him to take a shortcut across the potato field road, a two-mile jaunt.
Gordon headed the little car across the three inches of snow, confident the rear-engine vehicle would not fail him. Soon a flurry developed, and before we had traveled half a mile, there were six inches of snow on the ground. We were within a mile of home when we first noticed the tires slipping on the frozen dirt road. The snow was so deep that the front end of the car was acting like a snowplow, building a bank before it until the car could go no more. Shifting into reverse, Gordon created a similar bank of snow behind us. No matter which way we went, the car was simply overpowered by the depth of heavy wet snow. We were stuck a mile from home in the middle of a very large potato field, six kids and a very nervous young fiancé.
It was obvious that someone needed to go for help and that someone had to be Gordon, even though he didn't know the way to our farm. He left the engine going to keep us from freezing to death, but a VW Beetle heater doesn't provide much heat when the car is stationary. We were all a bit frightened and cold after Gordon left, but we told stories to occupy the time. Unfortunately, these quickly turned to ghost stories, and by the time Gordon had been gone for fifteen minutes, the younger kids were crying knowing that we were going to die a horrible death with wolves gnawing on our frozen limbs.
It seemed an eternity before we saw the Farmall tractor's lights in the distance, and we all yelled, "Hooray, we're saved." Soon my father and Gordy had the car chained to the tractor, and we felt the VW move again. But we hadn't gone very far when we came to an abrupt stop and could no longer hear the roar of the Farmall engine. Instead we heard curse words coming out of my father's mouth that we had never heard before or since: "The 'blankety-blank' tractor's out of gas." Indeed, in the heat of the hurried excitement to rescue his children, dad had forgotten to check the gas tank with a measuring stick.
So there we were, on a dark Christmas Eve, in the middle of a field, in the middle of a blizzard, six kids and two adults with a stuck VW and an out-of-gas tractor. What were the options? Well, someone could have walked the mile through the ever-increasing snow to carry back gas in a can. However, the rest of us might have frozen to death, or there might have been too much snow even for the tractor by that time.
It was decided that the logical solution was to siphon gas from the small tank of the car into the gas-hungry tractor. A copper tube was pilfered from the gas line of the Farmall, and the car was pushed and pulled close enough to the tractor to join the two tanks with the tubing. However, the tank of the tractor was much higher than the car so Gordon ended up cupping the siphoned fuel in his hands and feeding whatever didn't drip out into the gas tank of the tractor. This was not a practical scheme, but no one had a better solution. It might have worked, but one of the adults decided they'd have better luck if they could see what they were doing. Later, there was much disagreement over who lit the match.
A Beetle's gas tank and, thus, the fire were in the front left of the car. Six terrified little children were hustled out the passenger door into the waiting snowstorm and freezing temperatures. Luckily, the fire was extinguished with snow, but there was still the problem of being stuck in the storm. Caution prevailed, and it was decided to abandon the vehicles. Eight of us walked through two-feet-high snow until the lights of the farmhouse could be seen glistening in the distance through the falling snow. Fortunately, no one suffered frostbite.
When we entered the house, it was apparent that a celebration was going on. It was a surprise engagement party for Polly and Gordon. The real surprise was that the fiancé was not there. We were very late, almost frozen to death, and our best clothes were dreadfully disheveled. My grandmother, who liked her prospective son-in-law very much, was fit to be tied.
As winter turned to spring, the burnt car and rusted tractor were retrieved from the field. That summer Gordon and my Aunt Polly were married with high recommendations from the whole family. But for some reason, we were never able to get Gordy to take us bowling again.