3 Divine Mysteries Transcending Generations

These profound family stories elicit wonder through the test of time.

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- Posted on May 25, 2021

Gas tank, Long Johns, and a bundle of rope; Illustrations by Jessica Allen

Lonnie McAllister from Fayetteville, Arkansas

In 1954, when I was six years old, my family went on a road trip that has since become legend.

My parents, sister and I were driving from our house in Fayetteville, Arkansas, to Mom’s hometown in Texas. As night fell, we found ourselves on a deserted dirt road in Oklahoma, nearly out of gas. We hadn’t seen a service station in hours. It was getting late. My parents tried to hide their growing panic as the gas gauge crept toward empty, as empty as the road ahead of us.

Then a gas station appeared on the horizon.

It was run-down. Covered in vines, with crumbling concrete walls. If not for the immaculately uniformed attendant inside, we would have thought it was abandoned. What was it doing here, in the middle of nowhere? And why was it open so late? Dad was too relieved to question it. We filled up and were on our way.

The rest of our trip was uneventful. We took the same route back home. We came across that stretch of road in Oklahoma. We kept our eyes peeled for the service station. But we passed only empty fields. It was as if it had never been there at all.

Margaret P. Liebchen from Altavista, Virginia

Christmas Eve, 1944. My uncle Leonard was fast asleep aboard the troop ship SS Leopoldville. He was one of the more than 2,000 American soldiers aboard, all members of the Sixty-Sixth Infantry Division headed for France from England.

Suddenly, a massive explosion woke him. A German submarine had torpedoed the ship.

“You could see water coming up through the hold like a geyser,” he told us.

Uncle Leonard ran above deck in his long johns. Another ship in the convoy had already pulled up alongside the Leopoldville and was attempting to take on troops, but rough seas made it impossible.

“Some of the boys tried to jump, but it was too far. They fell between the two ships,” he said. The only option was to stay put. He found a life jacket and waited.

The SS Leopoldville sank in some three hours. Uncle Leonard and everyone else still aboard was plunged into the icy water of the English Channel. By the time help arrived, more than 700 had died.

But Uncle Leonard survived, thanks to the thick pair of woolen long johns he’d put on before bed that night. He swore he’d never worn the long johns to sleep—it was always too hot in the ship’s windowless berths—but that night, he felt compelled to.

They saved him from hypothermia as he awaited rescue. And while some might think it was luck, our family believes it was something more.

Dorothy Rieke from Julian, Nebraska

The morning of January 12, 1888, was unseasonably warm for southeastern Nebraska. So when the temperature plunged and a blizzard hit around 3 P.M., no one was prepared.

Schoolteacher Amelia Jones and her students were in trouble. Her one-room schoolhouse was quickly running out of wood for the stove that heated it. Amelia had no idea what to do. Then there came a pounding at the door. It was Mr. Jenson, the father of some of her students.

“Get the children,” he instructed. “I have extra blankets. My wagon and horses are outside.”

They boarded the wagon and set off. It was impossible to see. Snow swirled so densely that it was difficult to breathe. Please, God, save us, Amelia prayed.

The horses had the journey home memorized, and they got everyone back to the Jensons’ barn. But it was too cold to stay there; they had to walk the children to the Jensons’ house. How would they do that without losing each other in the storm?

Amelia’s eyes lighted upon a stray length of rope. It was just long enough for all the children to hold. Knowing the direction of the house, Mr. Jenson took the rope and led the group through the snow. Amelia brought up the rear. When they finally made it inside, Amelia sank to the floor, thanking God.

In what became known as the Children’s Blizzard of 1888, more than 200 people lost their lives—trapped in buildings without heat or caught outside in the cold, unprepared for the sudden shift in weather. But Amelia, my grandmother, lived to the ripe old age of 93. If it weren’t for the miracles that happened that day, I wouldn’t be here to share her story.

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