“Your legs are too short!” I could hear Ron yell in the cloud of white that surrounded us.
“You’re gonna’ have to jump more if you’re going to get to the pickup! Keep going! Just a couple more feet!”
I reached out my hand in the blowing snow and his glove grabbed mine.
“Woman, you are old!” I could hear him tease and laugh.
Once inside the pickup, Ron and I smiled at each other with our faces red from the struggle through the snow drifts. Somehow the snow had collected in his white/blond eyebrows.
“You look even more albino today than usual,” I teased him back.
“Let’s get this girl on the road!” he yelled as he cranked up the stereo, blasting the lyrics, “If I go crazy, will you still call me Superman?” by the band 3 Doors Down.
“The Superman Song will get us there!” he proclaimed as he slammed the pickup in gear.
The back of the pickup was full of snow but we still had managed to fit totes filled with dinner serviceware, chaffers wrapped in garbage bags, drink jugs and other things needed to set up a Christmas feast.
Yes, it was the infamous Christmas blizzard a number of years ago – when Nebraska was paralyzed by a ton of heavy snow and extremely high winds. While everyone was snowed in for Christmas, that wasn’t to be the case for my husband, Jerry, and me and Ron, who referred to himself as our ever faithful elf named Ron Dogg.
Ron was a part of our business, our family and our lives for many years. His vibrant soul, unique vocabulary and devastatingly funny mind kept us on our toes as the three of us built our company, JW’s Catering.
For many years, we took Christmas dinner to the boys at Epworth Village. At that time, there were dozens upon dozens of youngsters who lived at the main campus. Some of the kids were allowed to go home for the holidays, but many had to remain here because of a myriad of reasons.
So we began the Christmas tradition of setting up a buffet line filled with turkey, dressing, all the trimmings and enough pumpkin pie to kill a horse.
And the Christmas arrival of his historic blizzard couldn’t stop the holiday protocol – the kids were counting on us, they had been promised a real Christmas dinner. Paula, who was the head of food service at Epworth, said the kids and staff had been provided sandwich stuff for supper – but Christmas would just be a reminder of their life issues if it was just another day without a special dinner.
So down Division Avenue we went, Ron Dogg and I, blaring the Superman Song and hoping for the best.
“What if there is a car stuck in these drifts?” I yelled over the music, “and we can’t see it?”
“Well, if we hit a car in the snow, you’ll know it pretty quick! And if we get stuck, it’s going to be a hell of a walk back to the shop!” he yelled back, laughing. “Hang on woman! This Chevy is going to get it done!”
I was itching in my coveralls. Ron compared his coverall-induced sweating to all sorts of unsavory scenarios. Yet, we marched ahead – sometimes with our faces sticking out the windows because it was hard to see through the windshield.
We made it to Epworth and some of the kids and staff members ventured outside to greet us. In the blinding snow, we grabbed all the set-up stuff out of the back and the kids helped scoop a path to the building where they would be eating.
“Hey, homies, you tough guys, help her carry this in!” he yelled at a couple of 14-year-olds who seemed to have surly attitudes. “Christmas isn’t the day to be a punk!”
“Sure will, sir!” they quickly responded.
“I used to be a punk and I know it doesn’t work out that great!” Ron told them.
“You set up and Dub (Ron’s nickname for my husband) and I will be here with the food in about an hour,” Ron said right before he nearly burned up the motor in our pickup trying to get out of the Epworth parking lot.
I set up the chaffers and lit the lights. I cut pie and made punch. The plates were ready for food, the Christmas napkins begged to be used.
The hour came and went. The kids had all made their way to the dining room from their cottages and there was a lot of waiting as the lights periodically flickered as the electricity dared to be lost.
The snow had picked up significantly while I was at Epworth and all the paths dug by the kids had already completely drifted shut. There wasn’t a track to be seen on Division Avenue as the snow on the street doubled.
“Hey, lady, are you sure we are having Christmas dinner?” one little boy asked me.
I told him they would . . . although I really didn’t know if Ron and Jerry would make it with the food. Our business was only several blocks away, but this Christmas blizzard seemed to have turned our world into the North Pole.
“Believe me, if anybody can get here, it’s those two,” I said of the guys with whom I spent every day. “They are pretty stubborn.”
I hadn’t had cell service for the entire time I was at Epworth, but suddenly I saw a text on my phone from Ron that said, “Dub and Dogg are on the way!”
“They are coming!” I told the room full of anxious boys and caretakers. “We’re going to have Christmas dinner here in just a little bit!”
The dining hall at Epworth was lined with windows on the east and south sides. The boys stood along those walls, looking to the south in order to see two blond Santas in coveralls bring a little semblance of Christmas.
Somewhere along the way, a man on a tractor with a loader had joined the effort. As he pushed his way down Division Avenue, JW’s white pickup forged on behind him. In the aggressive snow, they defeated drift after drift and the boys began to cheer.
“This is awesome!” they yelled and high fived while I laughed and cried at the same time.
As Jerry tore through the drifts, Ron hung out of the passenger window, freezing his face and waving to his young fans watching from the second floor of the intended destination.
“Dub and Dogg won’t let you down!” he yelled.
“They are crazy!” some boys yelled back.
“Ain’t no blizzard gonna’ stop us!” Ron declared, pumping his fist in the air with the kids mimicking his motions.
It was just a magical moment I will never forget.
With icy faces and snow-caked coveralls, Dub and Dogg brought in the carriers that contained hot food. The boys helped, shook hands with the “crazy men,” and thanked them for making the trip.
“You guys looked just like Santa coming to save the day,” one of the kids earlier termed as a punk said to Ron.
“You just better save me some food because I’m starvin’,” Ron warned him, slightly unzipping his coveralls. “I haven’t even had a chance to do quality control,” which was what Ron always called the act of sneaking food. “Been too busy bustin’ up drifts and carrying stuff through the snow.”
While the snow swirled outside and the winds howled, the kids filled their plates and settled into their chairs to consume what would result in hopefully some Christmas contentment.
Dub and Dogg and I sat at a table – they were still in their coveralls because it was too much bother to take them off. We ate turkey and dressing. Ron slurped up gravy like it was the last on earth and periodically belched – he said that was a good sign of proper digestion and gastric approval.
He told me my hair looked pretty good considering the weather and congratulated Jerry on just having hair. Jerry pointed out Ron was lucky to have not gotten lost in a drift because he was so short and Ron countered with claims he could get around a lot quicker than us because he was so much cooler and younger.
There were no presents. We weren’t going to be with our blood-related families that day because of the blizzard. There wasn’t going to be any sort of holiday party. I don’t remember hearing any Christmas music that day – just the extremely loud Superman Song over and over.
But as I sat at that table, with my two favorite guys and all those boys around us, I remember thinking it was one of the best Christmases of all.
I’ve been thinking about Ron a lot.
This will be the first Christmas since Ron died.
He was killed in a car accident last spring. I’ll admit it -- I’ve been really mad that he was taken from this world.
“Come on,” I quietly yet angrily tell God, “he was just 39.”
Sometimes I think I see him driving down the street . . . then all I feel is disappointment.
Sometimes I think I hear him at my front door, providing me with a critique about what I’m wearing . . . then all I feel is a renewed, sad awareness that he’s just not here anymore.
And sometimes, in those moments, I can almost hear his soul whisper to my soul that he’s in a good place now and everything is OK . . . then all I feel is a rush of faith and belief in so much more than just this physical world.
Yes, Ron won’t be here on this earth, this Christmas. And I’ll miss him. A lot of people will.
But I have that memory of a Chevy bustin’ up snow drifts and singing the Superman Song and kids cheering for the Dub/Dogg team and Ron’s eyebrows filled with snow.
And I’m so grateful we had that very, very magical Christmas in coveralls.