Friday, December 18, 2009

No Room at the Inn

It was just before Christmas 1962 in Virginia. The aircraft carrier Enterprise had just returned from a tension-filled deployment off Cuba. Needless to say, the five-thousand men aboard ship were eager to get home to be with family and friends after a lengthy cruise in foreign waters.

One family was heading for Columbia County in upstate New York. The station wagon was loaded - the rack on top was filled with Christmas gifts, the five-hundred mile trip began around noon on Christmas eve and went well -- no bad weather, no major problems with traffic. By eight in the evening the family had driven through New Jersey, and had reached the New York State Thruway at Harriman.

At this point, the driver thought it wise to call home to let the folks know that they were only a couple hours away and would be home soon. The response to the call was unexpected: the voice on the other end of the line said, "You're so early - we're just not ready for you; you'll have to find some place to spend the night."

What a shock! What an unexpected turn of events within two hours of home. Then the driver said, "We'll do the best we can" and he returned to a wife and children (including a five-month-old infant) who were all tired and cranky from the four-hundred miles already driven since noon-time.

Driving north, they saw a major-chain motel sign at Newburg. Leaving the highway they pulled up to the motel and the nondescript drive in rumpled clothes entered the lobby. The desk clerk looked over his glasses and asked if he could be of help. The father asked if there was a room for two adults, four young children, and an infant. The desk clerk just looked at the young man and said, "Don't you know this is Christmas eve? We've been sold out for weeks. We're sorry, but there's no room at the inn". When asked if the clerk could suggest another motel or hotel, the desk clerk just shrugged his shoulders and said he had nothing to suggest.

Tension began to build in the car and, to top things off, the baby started to cry -she hadn't had a bottle in quite some time. It was nearly impossible to find a restaurant open on Christmas eve but finally a pizza restaurant was spotted and somehow they found a way to heat a bottle.

Traveling further north, and crossing the Hudson River a neon sign was seen glowing in in the sky over Poughkeepsie - a sign that simply said, "Hotel.'

Pulling up to the entrance, the exhausted family was ready to give up hope of a place to stay. Yet here there WAS room in the inn for the family. They checked into a very simple, no-frills room at almost precisely midnight on Christmas eve.

Thus the story of Christmas - the story of the inn with no room - the story of a family settling in to the simplest of accommodations came true in our time. To be sure, the family did not end up
in a stable but the hotel was one most people would have ignored under normal circumstances. In a way, the sign in the distance might well have been the Bethlehem star leading the way to a special place. In a sense, this became a miracle story in our own time.

It turned out to be a wonderful Christmas - a great family reunion - and a very positive experience. But I will never forget that Christmas eve, since, as you might guess.......the family trying to find room at the inn was mine. Now, as Paul Harvey might have put it, you have the rest of the story.

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