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Guided by a Heavenly Voice

An angel leads a pair of young brothers through a blizzard to the warmth and comfort of home.

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Mom looked my brother Buddy Earl and me up and down as we sat at the breakfast table for our biscuits, eggs and bacon.

“Weatherman says it’s going to be another warm day,” she said. “But I ain’t so sure. It’s December. I’m thinking you two boys had better put on your heavy coats.”

Buddy shook his head no! As the older brother—sixth grade this year—it was up to me to bargain with Mom.

“We would be chided out of school if we wore our winter coats on a day like this,” I said. “How about if we just wear long-sleeved shirts?”

Mom sighed. “Just make sure they’re not those thin ones.”

I pulled on my heaviest shirt and tucked my cross inside it. It was a plain cross on a chain, a present from my grandmother, so I wore it every day.

Soon we were climbing into Dad’s 1948 Pontiac for a ride to the school bus stop three miles away.

The car rattled so much I never knew if it would make it all the way to the bus stop, much less get us back home when Dad picked us up after school. Today it got us to the bus on time.

My class had early recess. I was glad for that long-sleeved shirt when I got on the playground. Rolling dark clouds covered the sky and the wind sent raindrops down my neck.

The temperature must have dropped 10 degrees since breakfast. By mid-morning our classroom was an icebox and the rain had turned to snow, piling up on the windowsills.

Just before lunch our teacher made an announcement. “The heating system in the school has failed, so we’re cutting the day short.”

The kids cheered. The ones who lived close by gathered their things to walk home. Too bad I had to wait for my ride.

“Don’t think we have to worry about school tomorrow,” Buddy said as I slid into the seat beside him on the bus a while later.

“Nope,” I agreed. “Just how we’re going to get home today.”

Buddy wiped some moisture off the bus window to watch the flakes as we drove. “We can call Dad from that little grocery by the bus stop so he can come and get us.”

But all that snow had me worried. Buddy’s plan sounded too easy. Something had to go wrong.

When we got to our stop I found out what that something was. The little grocery store was closed. We couldn’t use the phone. We couldn’t go in for warmth.

“We have to walk,” I said. “If we stay here we’ll freeze.”

I wrapped my arms around my body, trying not to think about that winter coat I hadn’t wanted to carry, and set off down the road. The wind was whistling through the trees now.

“This is the kind of wind Dad calls an Old Blue Northern,” I said through chattering teeth.

“I can’t see anything,” said Buddy. The snow was like a blanket wrapped around us. A freezing cold blanket.

There was a sound of tires behind us. Buddy and I jumped into the snow-filled ditch beside the road as a car slid past. A few minutes later it happened again.

“Why don’t they give us a ride?” Buddy said as I helped him up to the road. “Don’t they see we’re kids?”

“I don’t think they can stop,” I said. Cars in Tennessee didn’t have snow tires. “If they can even see us in all this snow,” I added. “We just have to keep walking. Get behind me and step in my footprints. You’ll get less tired that way.”

I lowered my head against the wind, shoved my hands into my pockets and pushed forward. I concentrated on putting one foot after the other and tried not to think about how far we had to go.

I hunched up my shoulders, but the collar of my shirt wasn’t much protection against the biting cold.

We turned off the main road onto the long double cow path that would take us home. There were no cars here, just the howl of the wind and the crunch of our footsteps.

My mind was getting foggy. I was the big brother. It was up to me to protect Buddy. But who would protect me? We still had a long ways to go, and things were going from bad to worse faster than a 20 mule team on a downhill drag.

I pulled my shirt tighter around my neck and felt something hard. Grandma’s cross! I pulled it out and pressed it to my frozen lips. “Please, Lord, don’t let me and Buddy die out here in the snow.”

Just as I finished my prayer I saw something moving to my left.

“Buddy! Get behind me,” I said.

I veered off the road to where Buddy squatted beneath a little cedar tree. “It’s warm here,” he said. “You go on and I’ll catch you up later.”

The chill I felt at that was worse than the cold of mere snow. If he felt warm, Buddy was freezing to death.

“I won’t leave you alone,” I said.

Buddy leaned against the tree. “Just let me rest a few minutes.”

But I knew if we rested we’d never get up again. When the snow cleared they’d find us dead, huddled under the tiny tree. That gave me an idea.

“Buddy, do you remember those four cedar trees by the creek? The ones we pretended were a tent this summer?”

Buddy lifted his head and looked into the snow. The group of cedars stood in a small circle, their tops bent together. They made a nice shelter in summer. They weren’t too far.

“I remember,” Buddy said slowly. “Is that where we wade in the creek?” He closed his eyes, probably imagining how nice a hot summer day felt.

I pulled him to his feet. “That’s the place,” I said. “It’ll be much warmer than one little tree.” I marched Buddy back to the path. “We can rest and get warm there. Stick your hand down the back of my belt and put your head down. I’ll take you right to it.”

“Is it very far?” Buddy asked. I felt his cold hand grab onto my belt.

“Not far at all,” I assured him, bending my head down and gripping my old cross. “I can almost make them out through the falling snow.”

Right, left, right, left. That was all I could think. Had we passed the four cedar trees yet? If so I hadn’t noticed. With each step a stinging sensation raced through my body.

My breath came in shallow gasps that burned my chest. Time seemed to stop. I could no longer hear our crunching footsteps. The world was quiet and peaceful. Even the snow had gotten soft and warm.

Buddy fell to his knees. “Where are the trees?” he muttered as I tried to pull him up. I wanted to join him. The snow was soft and warm as a feather bed.

“Almost there,” I said. “Just a few more steps and we’ll be warm.”

I pulled him along by the hand. Right, left, right, left. Everything was dark now. Had night come? The wind in the trees was like a sweet voice calling my name. It sounded familiar. Almost like my mother’s voice.

I stumbled toward it. Step after step, I followed that voice.

Finally someone took hold of my hand and pulled. I fell into a bright, warm light. “Where are the trees?” Buddy muttered.

“Don’t worry about the trees,” the sweet voice said. “You and your brother are home.”

Had the wind carried her voice to us in the snow?

Mom wrapped us both in her arms, then thick blankets.

Buddy and I changed to a different school the next year, one where we could catch the bus closer to our house. But whenever I passed those cedar trees I remembered our long walk in the snow, and the angel that brought us home.

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