Blaine is not a truck driver. He is, ostensibly, a rancher, though sometimes his bank account balance is a tad contrarian on that subject.

Marchant tyrell
Editor / Progressive Cattle

Yet somehow, trucker or not, here he is on Christmas Eve, grinding the gears of a not-as-new-as-it-looks Peterbilt pulling a recently emptied livestock trailer. The display on the dash informs him it’s a balmy 14ºF outside, though he knows the wind chill is roughly a zillion below zero. A dry, bitter High Plains wind is blowing snow across the highway, piling it into drifts in some spots and in others revealing dark, bare dirt. But the Van Gogh-esque gray sky has, so far, mercifully kept the snowflakes to itself.

He shouldn’t even have had to be here, 80 black ice-coated miles from home on Christmas dadgum Eve. But two days ago, he got a call from the trucking company that one of the two drivers signed on to haul his calves had been in a nasty wreck coming down Deadman’s Pass, busting up both his truck and his leg in the process. The second truck and driver had still been available, so Blaine had loaded up half his calves and shipped them to the feedlot yesterday, the 23rd. Then he spent the rest of the afternoon on the phone until well past dark, eventually securing the services of a trailer from one neighbor and the Peterbilt from another. Last-minute drivers, it turned out, were a pretty rare commodity on Christmas Eve, so Blaine – who, it should be noted, is not in possession of a CDL – had decided he’d make the trek himself, promising his wife, Heather, that he wouldn’t get pulled over and that he would be home in time for dinner.

Of course, he should have known better than to promise something like that. Though the calves spent the night in the corral and he woke up well before sunrise, one train wreck led to another, and it was nearing lunchtime before Blaine and his traveling companion, his 11-year-old daughter Emma, climbed into the cab of the truck and pulled out from the home place. Then, naturally, the horrendous roads conspired with Blaine’s amateur trucking skills to extend the trip time considerably.

But they got the calves delivered, and now they’re finally on their way home. Blaine’s never been much of a coffee drinker, but a half-empty 20-ounce bottle of eggnog in the cupholder and two empty Red Bull cans rolling around the floorboards between crumpled wrappers from truck stop burritos seem to indicate he’s well fueled for his Christmas Eve dash home.


To his right, sitting cross-legged in the passenger seat, Emma is softly snoring. Her hands are stuffed into the pockets of a pink, manure-splattered Carhartt coat, and the pom-pom on the top of her beanie quivers in rhythm with the truck’s pistons. Blaine smiles to himself – one of those sad-yet-proud smiles that are becoming increasingly familiar with each life-building milestone the kids hit. Though she’ll always be their little girl, Emma isn’t little girl anymore. She has understood the Santa Claus deal for a couple years now, but Blaine is convinced an ember of hope in the reality of magic still flickers in her. After all, he muses, his daughter’s complete and utter belief in the origin of Christmas and the power of the Holy Infant in her life would rival that of any wise man.

They had FaceTimed Heather and the younger kids as they drove to read from Luke and sing an angelically off-key rendition of “Silent Night.” It dang near broke Blaine’s heart that he wasn’t there to tuck the little ones in as their drooping eyelids wrestled with joyous anticipation of the coming morning’s spoils. But having Emma here with him, sleeping in heavenly peace in the seat of an old semi, dulls the sting some. She may not be nestled all snug in her bed, but the girl was there, Blaine knew, because of her deeply held belief that no one – and especially not her daddy – should be alone on Christmas Eve. And that warms his heart.

There’s no XM in the Peterbilt, but Blaine fiddles with the FM dial until “Holly Jolly Christmas” finds its way through the speakers, Burl Ives’ friendly growl adding to the already-staticky ambience. Blaine flexes his fingers on the steering wheel and lets out a tired, semi-contented sigh. For a moment, he dares to compare himself to Joseph and Mary: a long way from home, on a road they didn’t especially want to be on, exhausted and desperate and probably feeling a touch guilty about having put their precious family in this situation. In a flash of realization, Blaine acknowledges his gratitude that, while there is indeed a barn and a manger and a whole passel of livestock at the end of his road, there’s also a warm bed and a lighted tree and a level of certainty that when he wakes up tomorrow, his family will be smiling and safe. In the glow of the dash lights, a solitary tear runs down his face and falls silently into the bright silk of the wild rag around his neck.

He gazes into the night ahead, beyond the gleam of the headlights, toward home. And then, just as Gene Autry starts crooning about some freak of a deer on the radio …

“Emma.” Blaine shakes her by the shoulder. “Em, wake up.”

His daughter stirs, then ever-so-slightly raises her head without opening her eyes. “Are we home?” she mumbles.

“Not yet,” he tells her. “But Emma, look out there.”

Blaine isn’t even sure he sees it; it’s likely just exhaustion and sentimentality conspiring against his senses. But it’s been several seconds and still, there it is, off in the distance: a reddish dot of light just above the horizon, reflecting faintly off the low clouds. It looks to be headed west at a not inconsiderable speed. It can’t possibly be Rudolph and Santa and the gang. Can it? No, there’s no way. But still …

“Em,” he says again, “do you see that?”

Emma rubs her eyes and brushes a blond strand from her face. Then she smiles broadly, leans back, stuffs her hands back into her coat pockets and closes her eyes again.

“Well,” Blaine presses, “did you see it, too?”

“Yep,” she murmurs, and he can hear her smile in the dark. “Looks real to me, Daddy.”