Do miracles occur more often this time of year, or are we just more attuned to them?
A miracle may have touched the Farmer family of Altoona, Pennsylvania.
Bobby Farmer, 35, drove to his mother Abigail's house for Christmas, as he always does. The two headed north for the four-hour trip to Buffalo to visit her sister Carol, as they always do.
"It seemed like a normal trip, nothing out of the ordinary," recalled Mr. Farmer, a divorced father of one.
But something was indeed different this year. Farmer had recently traded in his four-door sedan for a pickup truck -- "like new but not quite new" is how he put it. The truck seated only two in the bench-style front seat, three if you squeezed in tight.
Abigail, a feisty 70, began to worry. Would the three of them be able to get in for church? Yes, Bobby reassured her. Are there enough seatbelts? What if they got into an accident? We'll be fine, he said.
Bobby placed his mother's single suitcase, a plain plaid Samsonite, into the bed of the truck. Abigail was having none of it.
"I told him, my suitcase will not be subjected to the elements," she said. "My pumpkin bread is in there. Or do you prefer soggy pumpkin bread for Christmas?"
Bobby said he'd be able to watch the suitcase from the rearview mirror. "Then you can't watch the road!" his mother reminded him.
But Bobby insisted. And so they set off for Buffalo and Aunt Carol's chicken noodle pot pie.
A few miles into the journey, Pennsylvania's notoriously beat-up roads had their say. An Adele-sized pothole loomed ahead. The vehicle was no match.
Bobby swerved, but the maw caught his right rear tire and tossed the suitcase into the air like an omelette. Horrified, Abigail demanded they stop the truck. "I'll lose everything!" she cried.
Her lower lip began to quiver, a tactic Bobby remembered from childhood. Hardened by divorce, Bobby was not moved. "The suitcase stays outside," he said.
A hundred miles into the trip, Bobby pulled into a gas station. As he got out of the car, Abigail picked up his cell phone and tried to dial 911. "If you're being taken somewhere against your will, that's a kidnapping in my book," she reasoned.
Meanwhile, Bobby asked the gas station manager if he had some cords or rope to tie the suitcase down. The manager shook his head no. A light snow began to fall.
Bobby walked back to the truck before Abigail could figure out how to use his phone. "Somebody called and I tried to answer it," she fibbed.
Mother and son pressed on. The snow came down steadier. Abigail grew more irritated. "Your dad always said you were a shit-for-brains, and I defended you," she said. "Now I think he was right."
"He never said that," Bobby protested. "You didn't hear every conversation," she rejoined.
Bobby quietly seethed. The suitcase matter had to be settled. He pulled over on Route 219 near the New York border. Tractor-trailers screamed past his ear.
"Why are we stopping? We'll freeze to death!" Abigail said.
Bobby got out and walked around the truck. He looked at the suitcase, now sporting a fine powder. Leaning against the tailgate, he took off his shoes and took out both laces, using them to tie the Samsonite to the truck. He then took off his overcoat and wrapped it like a present.
The prize secured, Bobby got back in the truck. He brushed off his shirt and allowed himself a smile.
"Where are your shoes? You'll catch pneumonia, idiot!" Abigail said.
The two arrived at their destination just as the snow began to pack the road. Carol came out to greet them. Bobby untied and unwrapped the suitcase.
It was the most precious gift a son could give his mother. And it had been safely delivered through the snow.
Later at the dinner table, the family partook of the pumpkin bread. "It's a little dry," said Aunt Carol. "Are you using the old recipe?"
"Bitch, bitch, bitch," said Abigail.
Some say that miracles do not exist, that there is an explanation for everything. Such cynical souls did not observe a son's sacrifice for his mom. They did not see a suitcase secured and a mother mollified, if only for a few minutes.
Perhaps they do not believe in Christmas, either. Well, in this writer's humble opinion, that is their loss.