Just Thinking Out Loud

Christmas wish

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All I wanted for Christmas was to create memories with Mark. I told Mark all I wanted were 12 gifts. I would like for him to plan a date each month for the year. It could be a movie night, cards with friends, a lunch break or exploring interesting sites in the area. I would even fudge to include seed corn meetings or cooperative dinners if he was pressed for ideas and time. Deep down, I imagined heart-pumping, breath-taking events. I even longed for quiet time to just be together without interruptions. I have been scheduling our social calendar around life on the farm for way too long, and I wanted to share this job with him.

I suggested we see a movie in town. I don’t remember the last movie we saw together in a theater, but our first date was a movie. I thought this would be a good way to start my 12 gifts of Christmas. We agreed to see, “The Boys in the Boat.” I read the book a few years ago and knew Mark would be captivated by the story. We were set to go when Mark had another idea.

We had sold six bred heifers to a farmer in northeast Iowa with the intent of delivering them ourselves. The blizzard that roared across Kansas, Iowa, Illinois and Wisconsin delayed our original trip. When the weather and roads were finally cleared, Mark saw his chance to make a road trip. We couldn’t miss two evening chores in a row, so we decided to postpone the movie date and make it a road trip adventure.

It was a blustery, windy day when we loaded the heifers in our bumper hitch trailer. Luckily, they were packed in tightly, and they had their long winter coats on. They would be able to handle the four-hour trip snuggled together. Mark checked the oil in the engine and air in all the tires, including the trailer spare. There was one slightly bad tire on the trailer, and he wanted to be prepared. He threw the floor jack and tools in the truck bed, just in case. I packed a tote with insulated coveralls, extra gloves, hats and blankets just in case too.

As we merged onto Highway 10 and four lanes of traffic, we soon realized we would not be traveling in the left lane. With a fully loaded trailer behind us, we were not going to reach the maximum speed limit. The northwest tailwind helped to propel us down the road, but it wasn’t going to help us come to a quick stop. Our four-hour trip would stretch out to a six-hour road trip, with a few bumps in the road.

We made it around the Twin Cities and were heading south on Interstate 35. It was a good trip. We were finding our rhythm on the road with snacks and conversations. Then, there was a bump-bump-bump. The road was clear. We didn’t hit anything, but that was not a good sound. Mark eased to a stop on the side of the road. He quickly discovered the problem. The right rear tire on the trailer had lost its face/tread. What remained was wrapped around the hub. This wasn’t even the bad tire.

Luckily, we were only a few miles away from an exit. We limped slowly down the edge of the road with flashers blinking. Mark pulled into a gas station and tried to park where the building could be a windbreak. He wiggled into the insulated coveralls and grabbed his tools as he set about to changing the tire. I called a friend in the area to find out where would be a good place to pick up a new spare tire. We still had the bad tire on the trailer, and we didn’t want to be caught without a spare.

As the sun was setting, we finally made it to our final destination. It was probably one of the quickest stops we have ever made. They needed to get to milking, and we needed to get back on the road. We had a long drive ahead of us, and the winds were swirling the snow across the highways. With our load removed, we were curious of how the trailer was going to handle the road conditions.

We made it to Mason City, Iowa, for a quick dinner to-go from Culver’s. This date was meeting my wish. We were enjoying time together without interruptions and dinner to boot. It was a nice time to relax and breathe.

As we made our way northward, we were making better time despite the headwinds. We settled in for the rest of our trip when the real entertainment kicked in. We noticed a bunch of snowplows on the roads around Owatonna. That was strange. The snow had subsided, and there was nothing to plow.

Then, suddenly, the truck slipped and jerked me awake. Mark kept us moving in the right direction, but we had no idea what had happened. As we approached an exit, a semi decided we were traveling too slow and started to pass us on the left. That is when our hearts stopped. The draft of the semi blocking the headwinds shifted the trailer away from our truck, and then, we hit black ice. All I could see were the exit sign and road markers barreling straight toward my side of the truck. Just as we were about to slide down the embankment and into the signs, Mark gained control and steered us out of danger.

Now we realized why the trucks were out. It wasn’t to plow but to put down salt at the exit areas of the interstate where ice had formed. Eventually, our breathing calmed, and our heart beats returned to normal. I was so glad Mark decided he would continue driving. I don’t think I would have been able to keep us from sliding off the edge of the road.

We finally made it home, 11 hours after we started. Mark’s first Christmas gift to me was filled with heart-pounding adventures, dinner and uninterrupted time together. He might be getting the hang of this. I can’t wait to see what he comes up with next month.

As their four children pursue dairy careers off the family farm, Natalie and Mark Schmitt started an adventure of milking registered Holsteins just because they like good cows on their farm north of Rice, Minnesota.

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