The steady rhythm of the windshield wipers was suddenly interrupted as l broke the silence. “Let’s stop by that Christmas tree lot on Hillsboro Avenue and pick out our tree on the way home.”
“Great idea,” Jim chimed. “We’ll need to get some new twinkle lights this year, too, so maybe we have time to do both tonight.”
The drizzle and gray sky loomed ahead of us as we headed on home from a visit with my grandmother. Plans for the holidays were buzzing, and we were reminiscing about the fact that Christmas in Florida somehow never seemed like Christmas without snow and frost on the windows.
The conversation drifted to the events of the next week. “What are you thinking about serving at the church Christmas party?” Jim asked.
“Oh, I guess we will talk about that at the meeting tonight. l have some ideas about a buffet…”
As we approached the entrance ramp to Interstate 75, we both spotted them at the same time. He, with his unkempt curly blond hair and grizzly beard. She with her petite but bulging figure, and thick black curls.
He stuck out his thumb. Jim and I looked at each other. It was like we could read each other’s thoughts without speaking a word.
The little car was crowded, and after all, you never can tell about hitchhikers. That could be a pillow stuffed under her dress, and they could be out to murder us or something. Besides, if we wasted time, we wouldn’t be able to stop and pick up a tree.
As we got closer, we observed the expressions on their faces and their eyes met ours. In an understood silence, Jim pulled the car over. I opened the door, climbed out, exchanged greetings about the wet weather, and watched them stuff a smelly wet brown duffle bag and themselves into the back seat.
“I’m Jeff, and this is my wife, Sue,” he started in as we pulled on to the freeway. “We’ve come all the way from Detroit. Sure is cold up there this time of year. I’ve been working in the plant this fall, but things are bad, and I got laid off. I’ve got a cousin in Fort Myers who thinks he can line me up picking fruit, and with the baby and all, this sure has been a long trip. Sue and I surely appreciate you picking us up.”
As I turned sideways in my seat to get a better look, I studied her. The large deep brown eyes suddenly turned downward. Her boxy, wet, wrinkled dress made me uncomfortable in my warm, nice clothing.
“When is your baby due?” I asked.
“I’m really not sure,” she almost whispered, “but I think in a couple of weeks.”
“Is that what your doctor said?” I pressed.
“Haven’t been to a doctor,” Jeff offered. “We haven’t had the money, but I figure everything is okay.”
“Are you all hungry?” I quickly changed the subject.
“Sure are. We had some bologna sandwiches with a trucker who picked us up yesterday, just south of Cincinnati, but that seems like last week.”
“Look,” I said, “We’re having a meeting at our church tonight. Jim here is the pastor, and we have plenty of food in the kitchen there. That’s where we’re heading right now. Why don’t you let us take you there and we’ll have some supper.”
“Sounds great,” Jeff hardly let me get the words out of my mouth.
As we pulled into the church parking lot and entered the church, I sensed the stares on the faces of the entertainment committee. Sue hadn’t said much the whole trip, but I suppose hunger made wading this sea of judgmental and questioning faces worth it.
I hurried them back into the kitchen. They looked so alone and unsure in the midst of the members.
Raiding the Dorcas refrigerator and pantry, we soon had a modest meal put together on the table. They ate like they hadn’t eaten in a year.
“One of our church members is a physician with an office next door.” I was talking before I knew it. “His light is on, he works late, and I know he would be glad to see you.” It all tumbled out, as I looked right at Sue.
“Well, I don’t know … ” “Please, think of the baby. He is a very nice man, and it wouldn’t take long and it won’t cost you anything.” I was talking too fast again.
After the examination, Dr. Guest pronounced that the baby would probably be another month. Dispensing vitamins, he made her promise to take them faithfully and saw us off.
“Sure you won’t spend the night? We have a guest room right here behind the office,” Dr. Guest insisted.
“No thanks, really. We need to get on to Fort Myers by late tonight. We usually get rides really easy. If you could just take us back over to the Interstate … ” Jeff said.
Reluctantly, I packed them a sack lunch and drove them to the ramp. The drizzle had ceased, and the night seemed unusually clear. She smiled faintly for the first time. “Thank you.” Her voice was stronger.
“Fort Myers, here we come,” Jeff announced.
As I drove slowly away, I saw Jeff’s thumb go out. A large blue Chevy sedan slowed down and they clambered in.
Somehow the night seemed brighter. Maybe, somewhere in this modern-day madhouse of a Christmas season, we had found someone who needed “room in the inn” and we found the blessing that the innkeeper once missed.
By Sharon Cress
“Room at the Inn” By Sharon Cress first appeared in the Fourth Quarter issue of the Shepherdess International Journal, www.ministerial.adventist.org. Used by permission