Once upon a Christmas eve,
Strangers came together.
And sharing in each other’s dreams,
Their lives were changed forever.
This is based on a true story about how my wife Linda and I, along with two complete strangers, each with their own compelling need to get home to their families for Christmas, were destined to share in a bit of magic, an enchanted voyage, all on a Christmas Eve many years ago.
Once Upon a Christmas Eve
On Christmas Eve, December 24th, 2006, my wife Linda and I were booked on a 6:00pm flight to return home to Las Vegas from Orange County, California where we had spent the last week celebrating Hanukkah with our children and grandchildren. It was the airline’s last flight of the day.
Little did we realize that we were about to embark upon what would become for the four of us involved, a magical Christmas experience, worthy of a Hallmark TV movie.
As we sat at the gate, waiting to board, we got into a conversation with a young man in an army uniform. His name was Darren, and he was on his way home to Virginia. He told us that he had a connecting flight at midnight in Las Vegas to get him there. He was quite excited as he explained that he had just completed Boot camp and was on his way home to spend Christmas day with his family before being shipped overseas the very next day.
His face lit up as he told us that his girlfriend would also be there, and he planned on proposing to her. He had wrapped her ring to look just like any other Christmas present and was going to put it under their tree and watch her unwrap it. You could see just how excited he was as he took the ring, wrapped in Christmas paper, out of his duffel bag and showed it to us.
As we were sitting there, I noticed the flight board was flashing “cancelled” next to our flight.
I jumped up and was the first person to get to the attendant behind the desk to find out what was going on. I was told that there was a mechanical problem with the plane and that they had to fly the part they needed in from another airport, but it wouldn’t get there until sometime the next day.
She said that they were going to bus everyone on this flight to Los Angeles International Airport where they would get us all on a flight from there, early the next morning.
I went back to Linda and told her the news. We decided that we would simply hire a limo to drive us back to Las Vegas. It was expensive but it beat hanging around the airport in Los Angeles all night.
We had a good friend, Tommy, who owned Exotic Limousines in Orange County and I called him, but he told me that on such short notice and because it was Christmas eve, he had no way of finding a driver, especially to go all the way to Las Vegas and back (a ten hour trip). After I begged him to try, he said he would make a few calls, but he didn‘t have much hope.
My cell phone rang about ten minutes later. It was Tommy. “I have somebody,” he said, “but it is going to be expensive.”
I didn’t even ask how much. I simply replied, “How soon can he get here?” It was now 6:30 and he said the car and driver could be there by 7:00pm.
Linda and I decided to ask the young soldier who needed to make the connection in Las Vegas, if he would like to come with us. It would be tight in terms of making his midnight connection, but we had a chance. And when I offered to bring him along with us, the look of his disappointment in not being able to get home in time, instantly changed into a broad smile. He couldn’t thank us enough.
Feeling good about helping him, we sat back in our seats and waited for the limo.
As fate would have it, as we were waiting, we ended up in a conversation with a young woman named Laura, whose dad had passed away just a few weeks before, and she was also desperate to get to Las Vegas this evening. Because it was Christmas Eve and so close to her father’s death, she didn’t want her mother to wake up alone on Christmas morning. So, for the second time that evening, we asked another stranger if she would like to join us, along with the soldier, on our journey.
This was becoming a real adventure. Complete strangers, all caught up in the magical spirit of Christmas eve. And our destinies, whether we realized it or not, now forever linked.
The limo arrived a few minutes past seven and we quickly got in, anxious to begin our journey. As I looked at my watch, I remember thinking that with any luck we could get to the Las Vegas airport between eleven and eleven thirty, just in time for Darren’s midnight connection.
We sat huddled together in the rear of the limo, Linda and I in the very back seat, facing Darren and Laura. In the door panels we could see bottles of water and some snacks. There was also a bottle of champagne in a bucket filled with ice.
I loosened the scarf I was wearing but left my coat on. Linda unbuttoned her jacket and we all settled in, making ourselves as comfortable as we could.
Huddled together, across from each other, no one said anything for the next few minutes, as we waited for the car to warm up.
As the temperature got more comfortable, Darren thanked us for bringing him along and helping him make his connection. Then he told us that he had never been in a limo before. “I never thought I’d be in a limousine,” he said, “These are for movie stars and important people.”
He went on to tell us that he had grown up in Lexington, Virginia. His father worked as a janitor at the Washington and Lee University and his mom was a waitress at a local restaurant. They had both graduated high school but neither attended college. He had two younger sisters, Mary-Rose and Karen. The family struggled financially, and to help out, Darren always had some kind of job for as far back as he could remember, doing chores for neighbors when he was young and then working as a handyman when he was old enough. He was good at fixing things, he told us.
After he graduated high school, he immediately enlisted in the army, and he was excited about being sent to Germany.
He told us that his girlfriend, Julie, was a senior in High School and they had been together since they met four years ago. She wanted to go to college and become a nurse.
I remember thinking about how young he was and how he and Julie were just beginning their lives and had so much to look forward to. I thought back to Linda and I when we were just dating, and was a little bit jealous of Darren.
I told them that Linda and I met when we were both twelve years old and that we began dating when we had just turned seventeen. We were married when we were nineteen and had been married for forty-four years now.
“Well,” he said, looking around the limo, “it looks like you did pretty well.”
“We’ve been fortunate.” I responded, “but it wasn’t always like this.” “And believe me,” Linda added,” there were lots of bumps in the road.”
Laura told us that she had been seeing someone for almost a year now, but she still wasn’t sure he was the one she wanted to spend the rest of her life with. “He was very caring when my father died last month,” she said, “but when I told him I was going to Las Vegas to be with my mom over Christmas, he decided to stay in California and celebrate the holiday with his family. I’m really disappointed that he won’t be with me in Las Vegas. He knows how much my mom really needs me this year.”
We spent the next few hours learning a lot more about each other. The more we shared about our lives, the closer we began to feel. And before long we realized that we had all made new friends for life.
When we entered the Las Vegas city limits, I opened the bottle of champagne, and we toasted the spirits that had brought us together on this one special evening.
We arrived at the Las Vegas airport at 11:30pm, just in time for Darren to make his connection, then we took Laura to her mom’s.
On the way to our own home, Linda and I both felt that our evening had truly been surreal, and that we had just been part of something very, very special.
The almost haunting magic of that Christmas Eve, coupled with the memory of strangers who needed each other, found each other, and embarked on a journey of love together, will always be with us.