Tommy Banks and the Christmas Miracle

by Doc Sawzall


The TV is on in the background, it's a lot of blah…blah blah, until we hear the following…

While the holiday is past, we'd like to take a moment and tell you about a Christmas miracle that happened in our own backyard. While the Christmas Eve blizzard will certainly make the record books for the thirty-two inches of unexpected snowfall, this is the story of a small community reaching out to help those less fortunate and in need.

It's also the story of two young men who went above and beyond. Every year the citizens of the small town of Hutchinson reach out to those neighbors in need with baskets of food, clothing, and toys. And this year was no exception. Ezra Tompkins and Tommy Banks were Santa's helpers this year, making deliveries to all the deserving in the surrounding communities. It's the one delivery they made at the end of their day that truly stands out.

I had been looking forward to the next several days. Tommy and his parents would be celebrating Christmas with us this year. His parents had hosted us for Thanksgiving. I was so looking forward to having them up. Of course, there was a hidden benefit in all of this, ok…not so hidden, but Tommy would be staying up at the farm. The other benefit is that with Christmas being on a Wednesday this year, the school system decided to close for the entire week and classes will resume on January 2nd .

So… Tommy and I are standing in the kitchen, in the midst of a baking and cooking frenzy. The Ladies Auxiliary andHistorical Societies has decided to go all out this year and cook, bake, and do for those who are less fortunate. We've been roped into making wreaths, wrapping presents, and delivering them all over town. As Grandpa Earl would say, "Once the Ladies of the Histerical Society get going, it's best to remain out of sight!"

And of course, they had to have a theme this year and it was, 'Remembering Christmas's Past.' That of course meant that many of the decorations were to be handmade, and you get bonus points if you can guess who made the bulk of those!

We were at their beck and call, having gotten our drivers licenses the past year and our skills were not only augmented but truly put to the test as we went hither and yon. When we weren't making and decorating wreaths or delivering those along with boxes of food, we were sent out to collect more pine and spruce boughs as it seemed there was never enough. The more folks the Ladies crossed off the list, more of the deserving were found.

When we weren't out during the day, we often found ourselves in the kitchen baking cookies, pies, and cakes during the evening. We'd dress out chickens, turkeys, make meatballs and prepare hams and small roasts along with the fixins. We peeled more potatoes and squash than I could honestly remember. As we did this, Tommy and I would remind ourselves just how lucky we were, how thin the line from being comfortable and poverty truly was.

For the bedroom and farming communities that made up our school district, the effects of the economy crashing over ten years ago still reverberated strongly. Jobs, good paying jobs were slow in returning. What work was to be had, was mostly minimum wage or if you were lucky, slightly better. What earned income one had, barely met the monthly bills. We knew of several families who had to sacrifice on the basics, shopped at second hand stores or visited food pantries. A box of food, some toys and donated clothing, jackets, shoes, boots and the like went a long way.

At first neither Tommy nor I understood What Uncles Ethan and Arik were doing when we were conscripted just after the first of the year to help them with the farming operations. They had enlarged the vegetable gardens, expanded the chicken coops, increased the number of sows and piglets, and laid in extra cordwood. We had doubled the size of our maple sugar operation and increased the honeybee hives. Now nearly a year later we understood why. They were giving back to the community that supported the farm through their purchases of our products.

At long last it was the morning of Christmas Eve; we had been going strong helping wherever we could since school let out on Friday the 20 th . We weren't feeling sorry for ourselves, quite the contrary, we found many 'stolen moments'. It helped that we had use of the farms 1968 International Travelall. It was a behemoth, a four door, four-wheel drive station wagon for the lack of better words. The only thing it wouldn't pass, it seemed, was a gas station.

We'd load that sucker up and be gone for hours cruising over the back roads making our deliveries or finding more pine and hemlock boughs. We thought we were clever, tucked just behind the driver's seat was an old foam pad and a couple of sleeping blankets, nearly out of sight with the seats folded down. We knew the cat was out of the bag when Uncle Arik gave us, with a nudge and a wink, a comforter to hide behind the front passenger's seat.

For the most part we were done, there were a handful of deliveries to be made and an odd errand or two. We both felt good about what we had accomplished working with everyone else. As much as we like to tease the ladies who put the whole thing together, we clearly understood that it was a labor of love for them and they worked much harder than we did. They went out of their way to show us their gratitude for our small part and every one of them thought we made a 'cute' couple.

Seventeen-year-old boys tend to embarrass easily and we got our quota of good-natured teasing. We gave back as best we could, never truly letting any of them know who made the best cookie, cake, pies, and whatnot. We were always needing more 'samples'!

As we were finishing a well-deserved late breakfast, it was hard to tell how much the kitchen resembled a culinary war zone just a few short hours ago. Gone was the hustle and bustle of the many cooks scurrying around the farm's extended kitchen. We had two stoves and fridges, our table was a fancy picnic table that could easily seat ten or more. My favorite was the restaurant-sized milk dispenser. On one side was five gallons of chocolate milk and the other side, five gallons of regular milk.

Just behind the largest fridge was the walk-in cooler. When the farm sent the beef and hogs off to market, the local butcher would pay us a visit to select what he wanted for his stores. He would leave us with fully dressed sides of beef and hogs. What wasn't wrapped and, in the freezer, could be found hanging, ready for our use. He'd make an additional trip up to the farm for Grandma Marge in time to have everything ready for her Christmas deliveries. Walking in that huge cooler you would find a floor plan posted on the door as to where everything was located. There were shelves loaded with whole chickens, roasts, chops, and sausages. Off to one side of the cooled was the root cellar where you would find all the winter vegetables, from squashes, potatoes, carrots and turnips and the like.

So, there we were, breakfast was over and cleaned up. It was getting towards late morning when Grandma Marge gave us the last list of deliveries along with a caution to be careful, snow was called for later this afternoon. Uncle Ethan reminded us that while only a few inches were expected, and made sure we had the tire chains secured in the back. He had hooked up the plow and filled the gas tank early this morning, so we wouldn't have to deal with the plow later this afternoon. Uncle Arik handed us a bunch of cash to keep the tank full as our day progressed. It didn't make sense to keep coming back to the farm to top off the gas tank.

While it is a common refrain most everywhere, it's never more true than in New England. "If you don't like the weather, wait five minutes, it'll change." How prophetic that statement was, as we were to find out that afternoon.

Light snow began to fall just after lunch, we had just started making our deliveries. The roads were fine as we sauntered along. At every stop we had to visit for a while, especially if there were kids or elderly folks. All expressed their deepest gratitude and wanted us to partake of their meager belongings, or play with the new toys for a moment. We were ever so humbled.

There were miles between our stops on narrow backcountry roads and as could be expected, time and distance were obstacles we would slowly have to overcome as we completed our rounds. By mid-afternoon the snow was falling steadily, the windshield wipers and defrosters were working overtime. We had the station wagon in four-wheel drive and sailed through the deepening snowfall.

By late afternoon the snow was up to the floorboards, we could hear it scraping the underside of the station wagon. We knew enough to back into everyone's driveway at that point. We had just stopped at the Stevens place, brought in a few loads of firewood for their wood stove while he made us hot cocoa. Both he and his wife were a rugged pair of eighty-year-olds and thanked us for taking the time to come out their way. It was while we were finishing our hot cocoa that we heard the latest weather report.

I couldn't tell you an isobar from an isotope, but what I could tell you, judging from the weather report, the gods of snow were about to share the wealth with us. Taking a moment to confirm the Stevens were set, and able to ride out the storm, we put the tire chains on, departing to make the last six stops. By now the snow was coming down as hard as I had ever seen. Snow was peeling off the plow even with the blade up.

We were able to make the next four deliveries quickly, the last two would be on the way home. We needed to see Betty Evans and her brood of four and the final stop would be in Nichewaug, a small hamlet of Hutchinson, just a stone's throw from the Quabbin Reservoir. Mary Parker was a single mom of three and from what I was told, expecting another after the first of the year. They lived in an old trailer just off Racoon Hollow.

By now dusk was settling in, with the wind whipping the snow around we were for the most part, able to cautiously make our way forward. I think we were about a quarter-mile from the parkers when Tommy yelled out to stop. As soon as I did, he hopped out and made his way through the nearly knee-deep snow to what I now saw as a dark bundle on the side of the road.

That dark bundle turned out to be seven-year-old Billy Parker with a horrific tale to tell.

When we finally got him to calm down, we learned his mom was going into labor, the baby was coming. Making matters worse her latest boyfriend had gotten drunk, smashed up the house and took off. Billy was out looking for help.

The trailer was a mess, windows were broken, the door hanging off one hinge, flapping in the wind. We backed up as close as we could to the trailer, told Billy to spread out the foam pad, sleeping bags and comforter. We'd be right back.

The inside of the trailer was a shambles. Words can't fully describe what we saw, broken furniture, smashed dishes, anything that could be picked up and tossed, was. In the middle of what was once was the living room, was Mary Parker lying on a filthy mattress in the cold, wind driven snow. On either side of her, were her other two children, little Mikey, and his younger sister Tammy shivering from the lack of heat.

Compounding all of this was Mary telling us that her water had broken and told us what needed to be done. The baby was coming. We had Billy take his brother and sister out to the station wagon. I looked for a knife or a pair of scissors while Tommy helped as Mary began to give birth.

I quickly removed my jacket and gave my shirt and undershirt to Tommy. I had just enough time to get my jacket on when Tommy told me he could see the baby's head. The next few moments were a blur of following Mary's instructions and we were both forever changed. I tied off the umbilical cord and made the cut. Somehow, we found a clean blanket and some towels, from the back bedroom as Mary got the baby to cry.

When asked later how we did all of this, it was hard to say, so many things needed to be done and we simply focused on what we needed to do then. After we were able to get Mary and the baby into the station wagon, she asked that we get her pocketbook from the kitchen counter. Going back in, it was then I noticed the strong smell of propane gas, the wind had momentarily died. Looking over towards the stove, the boyfriend, looking for money Mary didn't have, had pulled the strove out from the wall, cracking a piping connection.

I think it took me all of about ten seconds to get back into the station wagon, put it in gear and go. We made it to the road when the trailer went up. We were told later that a snow-covered branch came down across the powerline to the trailer, the sparks setting off the gas.

Tommy kept checking on our passengers, their basket of Christmas goodies had been opened. He handed out cookies, crackers, and chunks of cake he somehow managed to cut. Mary kept saying she was fine, just tired. We had been without any cell phone coverage since late afternoon. It took us the better part of an hour to make it to the Hutchinson Turnpike. There was only one choice to make, had we gone away from home, we were twenty miles or more from help. Home was ten miles and the medical center, another five miles or so from there. We were heading home.

We were a few minutes up the turnpike when Tommy finally got a weak cell phone signal and called the farm. He had his phone on speaker and told them what had happened, to call the medical center and have them meet us up at the farm.

We were about halfway home when we saw the back end of one of the town plow trucks. I don't think our speed ever exceeded ten miles an hour, if that. We literally crawled at walking pace till we saw that wonderful truck. We came to a stop as Ralph Johnson came to check on us, told us Doc Tompkins was at the house and to carefully follow him, and wait for him to make a pass clearing the drive before heading down.

Ralph gave us a blast of his horn as he drove out the driveway and I was never so glad to finally turn the ignition key off. We were surrounded even before we could open the doors. Grandma Marge and Tommy's mother waited for us up on the porch. Doc and my uncles took care of the rest. Billy and his siblings were ensconced at the kitchen table staring at the piles of food that miraculously appeared.

Tommy looked over to me, nodded towards the porch and motioned me to follow him. Standing there wrapped in each other's arms we began to decompress. "I wouldn't trade today for a million dollars," he told me. "We were where we needed to be, doing what needed to be done, and I would do it all over again in a heartbeat, Ezra Tompkins." His eyes were so full of love, "You've reminded me of something important, what truly is important!


Mary had called for us, had asked to meet with us for a moment alone to give her thanks for what we had done. Asking us to come a bit closer, we both got to hold the baby. What she told us next stunned us, asking us to keep it quiet for a bit.

Needless to say, we honored her request and now a couple of days later, as I sit at my desk holding Thomas Ezra Parker, I can honestly write in my journal that this was the best Christmas ever. Tommy and I are wanted downstairs, others are waiting their turn to hold this little miracle.


The TV is on in the background, it's a lot of blah…blah blah, until we hear the following…

While the holiday is past, we'd like to take a moment and tell you about a Christmas miracle that happened in our own backyard. While the Christmas Eve blizzard will certainly make the record books for the thirty-two inches of unexpected snowfall, this is the story of a small community reaching out to help those less fortunate and in need.

It's also the story of two young men who went above and beyond. Every year the citizens of the small town of Hutchinson reach out to those neighbors in need with baskets of food, clothing, and toys. And this year was no exception. Ezra Tompkins and Tommy Banks were Santa's helpers this year, making deliveries to all the deserving in the surrounding communities. It's the one delivery they made at the end of their day that truly stands out.

There were a few left to do on Christmas Eve afternoon and, as the boys set out to finish their rounds, the blizzard hit. Not only did they complete their task but at their last stop, they came across a woman in labor in dire circumstances. They were able to deliver the baby and get the small family to safety before the trailer they were living in went up in flames from a propane gas leak.

These are remarkable young men and only ask that we take a moment to look around, to see someone in need and lend a helping hand, that the gift of time is one of the greatest gifts of all.

But most of all, they simply ask us to remember the reason for the season.

From the note of Ezra Tompkins, Christmas 2019

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