Fudge, Divinity and a Cussing Fit!
We are of no relation, but Janice Porterfield is what I call a “constant” in my life. She lives in my hometown and I can always count on her to be watching my family from the outside looking in. I take comfort in knowing that she’s just a phone call away when I need encouragement or sound advice. It should also be noted that Mrs. Janice can cook you the best Texas sheet cake known to man, even though she hails from Tennessee. If it’s piano music you’re into, she can play you everything from “Great Balls of Fire” to “The Old Rugged Cross.” In short, she’s the total package. So naturally, when I needed a story about Christmas, I knew Mrs. Janice would have the perfect one, because there’s nothing this woman doesn’t know.
As previously mentioned, Mrs. Porterfield was born and raised in Tennessee. Counce, her hometown, is small and sits right on the Tennessee River. Mrs. Janice has very fond memories of growing up there and smiles when she says, “there is nothing quite like Christmas back home with my family.” So, on Christmas Day, 1989, she packed her daughter’s little white Honda with suitcases, gifts, and 851 pounds of homemade fudge & divinity. Did I mention that Mrs. Janice is her family’s nominated cook of all things sweet and heavenly? Anyway, towns on the way to her Tennessee home had icy weather the previous week. Before she left, Mrs. Janice confirmed with both Arkansas and Tennessee highway departments that the roads were safe for travel. She remembers that the specific answer she got back from officials was that all roads in both states were “very navigatable.” Mrs. Janice says that she wanted to go home even more than usual that year and was looking forward to seeing family on Christmas night. With her daughter, Melynn, she set out on the seven-hour trek to Tennessee. Unfortunately, “navigatable” only proved true until the mother and daughter duo got just past Hope, Arkansas.
Patchy black ice coated I-30 East at the far edge of Hempstead County. Mrs. Janice remembers the terrifying moment she hit one of those icy patches and the Honda began to spin, crossing the median, crashing into an embankment, and ending up on the westbound side of Interstate. Thankfully, Janice and Melynn suffered no injuries, and the car sustained only minor cosmetic damages. Looking up and down I-30, she counted four other vehicles that had slid off the road. She decided the highway department men must not know the meaning of the word “navigatable.” Mrs. Janice, shivering in the ditch trying to decide what to do, remembers looking down and seeing that her teenage daughter was wearing black flats and no socks. Anybody who has raised teenage girls knows that it’s all about the outfit. If the outfit looks better with black flats and no socks, even while you’re stranded in ice on the side of the interstate, then so be it. A 16-year-old girl will take one for the team if it means looking cute. Mrs. Janice, not in the mood for a fashion show, told Melynn, in short order, to get back in the car and dig a pair of socks out of her suitcase so she wouldn’t freeze to death. Less than one minute after her daughter returned from her wardrobe reboot, a fancy blue car topped the hill, hit a patch of ice and slammed right into her stranded car. The engine of the Honda was forced into the back seat from the impact!
Though grateful that her daughter had side-stepped certain death by mere seconds, the mood shifted to horror as Mrs. Janice noticed that the driver of the fancy blue car was slumped over the steering wheel. Scared to death that the driver was dead, Mrs. Janice went to his window to see if the man was breathing. Suddenly, the driver popped his head up and exited the car in what seemed like one motion. He proceeded to yell and scream words that were not befitting of Christmas Day. He was very upset that his pretty blue car was destroyed. Never mind the fact that homemade fudge & divinity were scattered all over the Interstate. Mrs. Janice told the man, in the now ugly blue car, “If you’ve got the energy to be throwing a cussing fit, I guess you’re going to be alright. Merry Christmas!”
A Texarkana man who had also slid off the road a few yards ahead, managed to get his car out of the ditch. He witnessed Mrs. Janice’s less than Merry Christmas luck and approached her. She explained she was trying to get to Tennessee to spend the holiday with her family, but now, with a totaled car, she just wanted to go back to Atlanta, Texas. The good Samaritan explained he was on his way to Little Rock to pick up his mother, who was being released from a hospital. He was trying to get her back to Texarkana to be with the rest of his family on Christmas Day. The man told them if they would ride with him to Little Rock to get his mom, he’d bring them back home to Atlanta. With no other option, Mrs. Janice agreed.
So it was, that Mrs. Janice, her daughter, the good Samaritan, and his recovering mother spent Christmas in the car talking and laughing all the way from Hempstead County, to Little Rock, and back to Atlanta. She says they all mentioned their thankfulness for safety and good health countless times on that Christmas in 1989. Mrs. Janice never made it home to Tennessee that year, but she did make a good friend in a stranger who witnessed her struggling that day. In typical Janice Porterfield fashion, she says she made fudge and divinity for her I-30 angel and hand delivered it to him for several Christmases after that.
I tell this story to say that “traditional” is probably not going to be the word that we’ll use as we look back on Christmas 2020. In fact, some of us might describe this entire holiday season with some of the same words used by the man in the blue car. I just think, this year, we have to take Christmas as it comes. Because of restrictions or fear of illness or a million other things that have defined 2020, we may not all make it home to celebrate with family or be able to celebrate Christmas in the same way we usually do. That’s okay. On the bright side, we’ve made it to the last holiday of this crazy year with all of our fudge and divinity intact, and that’s saying something, y’all! Let’s use this time to be grateful, to lend a helping hand to those who are struggling or missing home, and to develop a clearer understanding of what this season really means.
From my house to yours, Merry Christmas! I pray that you make fun, non-traditional memories wherever you are, and those memories result in stories you’ll tell for years to come.