Reprinted with permission from "Where Angels Walk," published by Ballantine Books.

It was just past midnight on December 24, 1983. The Midwest was shivering through a record-breaking cold spell, complete with gale-force winds and frozen water pipes. And although our suburban Chicago household was filled with the snug sounds of a family at rest, I couldn't be a part of them, not until our 21-old son pulled into the driveway. At the moment, Tim and his two roommates were driving home for Christmas, their first trip back since they had moved East last May. "Don't worry, Mom," Tim had reassured me over the phone last night. "We're going to leave before dawn tomorrow and drive straight through. We'll be fine!"

Kids. They do insane things. Under normal circumstances, I figured, a Connecticut-to-Illinois trek ought to take about eighteen hours. But the weather had turned so dangerously cold that radio reports warned against venturing outdoors, even for a few moments. And we have heard nothing from the travelers. Distressed, I pictured them on a desolate road. What if they ran into car problems or lost their way? And if they had been delayed, why hadn't Tim phoned. Restlessly I paced and prayed in the familiar shorthand all mothers know: God, send someone to help them.

By now, as I later learned, the trio had stopped briefly in Fort Wayne, Indiana, to deposit Don at his family home. Common sense suggested that Tim and Jim stay the rest of the night and resume their trek in the morning. But when does common sense prevail with invincible young adults?.The two had started out again.

They had been traveling for only a few miles on a rural access road to the Indiana toll way, when they noticed the car's engine seem sluggish. Tim glanced uneasily at Jim. "Do not---" the radio announcer intoned, "-repeat-do not venture outside tonight, friends. There's a record wind-chill of eighty below zero, which means that exposed skin will freeze in less than a minute." The car surged suddenly, then coughed and slowed again.

"Tim," Jim spoke until the darkness, "we're not going to stall here, are we?"

"We can't," Tim answered grimly as he pumped the accelerator. "We'd die for sure."

But instead of picking up speed, the engine sputtered, chugging and slowing again. About a mile later, at the top of a small incline, the car crawled to a frozen stop.

The temperature would kill them in a manner of minutes...Read more on page 2 >>

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Horrified, Tim and Jim looked at each other. They could see across the fields in every direction...but there was no traffic, no refuge ahead, not even a farmhouse light blinking in the distance...And the appalling, unbelievable cold! Never had they experienced anything so intense. Even if shelter was only a short distance away, they couldn't survive. The temperature would kill them in a manner of minutes....Well, God, Tim prayed, echoing my own distant plea, You're the only one who can help us now."

Then, as if they had already slipped into a dream, they saw headlights flashing at the car's left rear. But that was impossible, for they had seen no twin pinpricks of light in the distance, no hopeful approach. Where had the vehicle come from? Had they already died?

But no. Miraculously, someone was knocking on the drivers' side window. "Need to be pulled?" In disbelief, they heard the muffled shout. But it was true. Their rescuer was driving a tow truck.

(Could he bring them back to Don's? He did, saying nothing, not asking for directions, finally maneuvering around the cul-de-sac and parking in front of the house.) Tim and Jim raced to the side door where Don was waiting. "The tow truck, Don," Tim began. "I have to pay him. I need to borrow--"

"Wait a minute," Don frowned, looking past his friends through the windows. "I don't seen any tow truck out there."

Tim and Jim turned around. There, parked alone at the curb, was Tim's car. There had been no sound in the crystal-clear night of its release from the chains, no door slam, no chug of an engine pulling away. There had been no bill for Tim to pay, to receipt to sign, no farewell or "thank you" or "Merry Christmas..."

Stunned, Tim raced back down the driveway to the curb, but there were no taillights disappearing in the distance, no engine noise echoing through the silent streets, nothing at all to mark the tow truck's presence.

Then Tim saw the tire tracks in the windblown snowdrifts. But there was only one set of tracks marking the cul-de-sac. And they belonged to Tim's car...

...Angels don't submit to litmus tests, testify in court or slide under a microscope for examination. Thus their existence cannot be "proved" by the guidelines we humans usually use. To know one, perhaps, requires a willingness to suspend judgment, to open ourselves to possibilities we've only dreamed about.

Was it an angel? Our family will never know for sure.

But on Christmas Eve in 1983, I heard the whisper of wings as a tow-truck driver answered a heavenly summons, and brought our son safely home.

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