Side of Ranch: Jay Heater
No matter what your faith might be, it's hard to argue the true magic of Christmas comes from the added drive to do something nice.
We've all heard the stories — an exorbitant tip that brightens the day of a struggling waitress, a person dressing as a clown and visiting the children's wing of a hospital, or even paying the toll for the person behind you.
We just do nice stuff, not knowing our kindness could have a profound effect that lasts a lifetime.
Just ask Central Park's Bill and Pat Kopcsak, who every Christmas retell a four-decade old story that strengthens their faith in humanity.
It was 1976 when they had left their home of Lancaster, Va., and headed to Connecticut to be with Pat's family. Being young, and perhaps a bit foolhardy, they began the trip even though a severe snowstorm was forecast to bury much of the East Coast. Their 1975 Buick LeSabre will filled with presents and they were making good time because the roads were empty.
It was dark and snowy night on a country road as the Kopcsaks made their way through Westmoreland County. Visibility wasn't the best, but they were in good spirits with Christmas music playing on the radio.
And then it happened.
In the center of the road was a black cow, staring at their approaching car. It was too late to do anything, so Bill's attempts to slam on the breaks only softened the impact, which sent the cow over the left fender. The young couple climbed out of the car only to see steam pouring out of the hood from their damaged radiator.
Bill still remembers his wife's words at that moment, some profanities followed by "What a perfect ending to a lousy year." She was crying.
In the distance, the couple could see headlights approaching. It turned out to be a pickup truck driven by a farmer, who was wearing coveralls and a hat with a John Deere emblem. He went right to the cow.
"This here is one of Wirt Trigger's cows," the man said. "He is breathing kind of slow, but at least he's breathing. His grandson is going to be upset over this cow. He raised her since he was little."
Wirt Trigger, a short, elderly man with one arm, arrived a few moments later. He managed to get the cow, which was bleeding from the mouth, to her feet. The farmers managed to get the cow back to the farm and the Kopcsaks were able to drive the short distance to the farmhouse in their damaged car so they could use the phone to call for help.
There, old Wirt had to tell his grandson, Tommy Trigger, about his cow, which was named Dusty. "Dusty is a tough cow," he elderly man said. "If she makes it through the night, she will have a chance."
They were soon joined by Wirt Trigger, Jr., who asked the Kopcsaks where they were going, and who obviously could see the sadness in Pat's eyes. He pulled his car keys out of his pocket. It was for his brand new Dodge which only had 110 miles on it.
"You are going to take my Dodge and head to Connecticut," he said.
Bill said he wouldn't feel right driving the stranger's new car into a bad snowstorm.
"It's just a car," Wirt Trigger, Jr. said. "You need to get going."
The Trigger family helped the Kopcsaks pile their luggage and presents into the Dodge and away they went.
Pat remembers the words she said as they pulled away from the farm.
"Thank you, Jesus," she said.
A week later, the Kopcsaks returned to find their radiator had been repaired and Dusty had survived. Pat's tears were because of the joy of Christmas.
Bill, a lawyer, and Pat, a teacher, went along with their life, had three children, and piled up many amazing experiences. They do whatever they can to give back, such as Bill's involvement with the Knights of Columbus at Our Lady of the Angels Catholic Church in Lakewood Ranch.
They both hope they can give someone the joy they experienced that snowy day.
I sincerely hope you can, too. Merry Christmas.
HERE IS THE ENTIRE STORY Bill Kopcsak wrote about that Christmas.
A Christmas Cow
I never expected a black cow to be standing in the middle of the road. Weather reports were calling for a blizzard that would bury much of the East Coast. The snow had just begun to fall as I reached to turn on the wipers “Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer” was playing on the radio and my wife was softly humming along. The heater in our one year old 1975 Buick LeSabre whined and engulfed us in warm, thick air. All seemed peaceful on this rural Virginia road. We had not passed another car for at least twenty minutes.
The wrapped Christmas presents on the back seat had finally stopped sliding and bumping once they found resting places against each other. I was convinced visibility through the windshield was best using the low beams and had stopped flashing back and forth from high to low and low to high. At age 32, a couple of snow flakes and a starless night caused me no particular concern.
Like most country roads in Virginia, the speed limit was not posted. I guessed it was 55. I was probably going about that fast. We weren’t in a hurry since we were only driving to Baltimore tonight and would not be heading to my wife’s parent’s house in Connecticut until tomorrow. Her Dad had called suggesting that we might want to delay our trip a day or two until the predicted widespread blizzard had passed. Pat, my wife, laughed and assured him we would be okay. She had a ton of aunts, uncles and cousins in Hartford and wanted to make sure we had time to see them all. What could possibly go wrong?
As we approached a rise in the roadway, I gripped the steering wheel a little tighter. The center line of the two-lane, blacktop road was a solid yellow line. Snowflakes seemed suddenly to be all over the windshield.
Then I spotted it. A black cow, staring right at us, smack in the center of the road. All I could do was stand on the brake pedal. No time for tires to squeal. No room to swerve. Just a loud THUMP as the cow was hurled over the front left fender. The sound of gift wrapped boxes and carefully decorated bags hurling into the back of our seat and then a loud hissing and what looked like dust or steam pouring up from the hood of the car.
I looked at Pat and asked “Are you okay?” In a shaken voice she responded “Yes, what is that noise?” Reluctantly I whispered “It’s the radiator.” I do not recall all her curse words but I do remember her saying “What a perfect ending to a lousy year.”
I pulled on the door handle, pushed my shoulder into the door and it opened. It was colder outside than I thought. I left the headlights on and stepped out on to the road. It was a short walk to the front of the car and I couldn’t believe the damage. The front end was caved in and there was a hissing sound as the last of the anti-freeze leaked out of the crushed radiator. Yep, this really was a fitting end to a lousy year.
Through the windshield I could see tears rolling down Pat’s face. There would be no Christmas holiday in Connecticut this year. We had only left home in White Stone about two hours ago so my first thought was to find a phone so we could call someone who could come pick us up and drive us back to our house.
Then I spotted headlights coming towards us. I could see the front end of what looked like a dark green Ford pick up truck slowing to a halt on the other side of the road. Through the open truck window I heard the driver say “You folks all right?”
“Yes” I replied “but our car has had it.”
The truck door squeaked open and the driver stepped out on the shoulder of the road opposite me. He was an older fellow in blue jean coveralls wearing a green hat with a John Deere emblem. Without saying anything, he took a few steps on the gravel edge of his side of the road and then bent over something that was partly on and partly off the road.
Looking up at me with a concerned look, the other driver said “I think he may be okay. This here cow is one of Wirt Trigger’s. He is breathin’ kinda slow but at least he’s breathin’.”
Quite frankly, at that point in time, I could have cared less about the cow but thought it best to just keep quiet. The old fella walked over to me, we shook hands. His skin felt as crusty as sandpaper and his grip was firm.
“I’m Bob Crenshaw. Wirt’s farm is at the top of this ridge and mine’s next door. His grandson’s gonna be upset over this cow. He raised him since he was little. Wirt and the boy treat this cow more like a dog than a cow the way they let him graze in their back yard and feed him by hand”
“Do you think Wirt might have a phone in his house?”
“Of course, we all got phones. As nosey as Wirt is, I suppose he’s already spotted us and will be here soon.” Mr. Crenshaw, paused, looked at the sky, as if he were speaking to someone far away, and said “Ever since Wirt lost his arm, he just can’t keep up with all the fence mending.”
So there was an answer to a question I never asked. What on earth was that cow doing on the road?
Just about then I could see two more headlights coming our way down a driveway leading from where Mr. Crenshaw said Mr. Trigger lived. It was another pick up truck. This one was black which made it contrast with the snow that had started falling in heavy waves.
A short, elderly man with close cropped hair stepped out from the second pick up and headed straight for the cow on the ground. I could hear him mumbling “Come on now, lookie here, get up.” As he leaned over the cow, I could not help but notice his rolled up sleeve where a right arm should have been.
I walked around to the passenger side of our car and tapped on the window which Pat lowered. Her sobs caused a tightening in my chest and I knew there really was nothing I could say that would help. Going to Connecticut for Christmas was one of the few things she looked forward to in this depressing year.
“So what is going on” she asked. “Don’t know, all they seem to care about is the cow. Maybe we can call the cops from one of their houses since these farmers both live close by”.
Suddenly Pat blurted: “Look.” The cow was on its feet. The headlights showed blood dripping down the side of its mouth. It was standing on the road but clearly swaying from side to side. Considering the size of our car, the speed on impact and the damage done to our Buick, I could not believe the cow was standing.
Mr. Crenshaw yelled out to me, “Hey Buddy, I’ll get the cow back to Wirt’s farm. Why don’t you follow him back to his place so you can make your phone call? “
“Okay, but I am not sure how far our car will go since the front end is smashed and the radiator is drained.”
“Just go quick and you’ll be okay. Don’t stop for nothin’ and shut the engine off as soon as you get to Wirt’s.”
By now the snow was blowing in regular gusts and sticking to the road. I slid into the driver’s seat and waited for Mr. Trigger to turn his truck around, noticed Pat had turned off our car radio. So much for Christmas carols. The only noise in the car was her soft sniffling.
Mr. Trigger’s truck approached and I turned the key relieved to hear the roar of the Buick’s V-8 engine. Slowly we followed his truck up the bumpy lane leading to his two story white framed farm house. My guess is he did not expect visitors tonight.
We parked in the rear of his house. The back porch light was on and Mr. Trigger was already headed inside as I helped Pat out of our car. The back porch floor and posts were flaked with peeling paint. I thought this may be just another hint of a one arm problem?
When we reached the back door, it opened and we were greeted by a gentle looking, elderly woman with light gray hair, warm blue eyes and a kind smile.
“Hello, I’m Martha Trigger. Come on in. Sorry about your car.” Wirt Trigger stood behind her, extended his left hand for me to shake, and in a deep voice said, “Hello.”
Mrs. Trigger immediately noticed the tears on Pat’s cheeks so she rushed over to the kitchen counter to grab a box of tissues. Handing her a tissue, she kindly said “Oh Darlin’, it will be okay.”
Mr. Trigger pointed us towards the living room couch where we sat in a moment of awkward silence. Finally I said, “Well, guess we had better call the State Police to sort this out.”
He replied, “No need. I have insurance. They will take care of this.”
“I know you probably have insurance but the law says we have to call the police when the damage is as extensive as it is to my car.”
“Well, okay. Here’s the phone book. The phone is over there.”
Mrs. Trigger offered us coffee and Pat said “Yes, thanks” with tears still on her cheeks.
My call to the police was thankfully short. The dispatcher said they had a trooper in the Montross area and he should be there in about 15-20 minutes. I handed the phone to Mr. Trigger to give directions to his farm.
I had not been into too many farm houses but this one seemed to be both cozy and comfortable. Blankets draped over the couch, a rocking chair in the corner, framed family photos on the mantle (mostly all black and white) and a strong odor left over from burning seasoned wood in the fireplace. Mrs.Trigger’s welcoming smile and her attention to Pat’s distress also added to the warmth of the place.
Suddenly the back door flew open and in came a tall, husky man in a red flannel jacket who looked to be in his mid-30’s and a young boy about nine years old. The boy ran over to Mr. Trigger and asked, “Grandpap, Is Dusty going to make it?”
Looking the youngster straight in the eye, Mr. Trigger said, ”Tommy, we’ll know more in the morning. Dusty is a tough cow and if he makes it through the night he might have a chance just so long as he doesn’t get a fever.” Obviously concerned and feeling all the pain in the room, Mrs. Trigger left to put coffee on the stove.
The red flannel shirt fellow then said “Hi, I’m Wirt Trigger Jr. Everybody calls me Junior. This here’s my Daddy” as he pointed towards Mr. Trigger and shook my hand. I told him “It has been quite a night befitting the end of a rough year.”
I explained to Junior that we were on our way to Connecticut for Christmas and that our car was filled with presents for relatives and friends up north. Pat tried to say something but could only reach for another tissue. I did not give Junior any details as to why the year had been so bad but maybe he could tell that there was more to it than simply missing a Christmas visit.
“Ma’am, are you okay?” Junior asked Pat. She nodded her head up and down. Valiantly, she was trying to make him feel okay. He was not the one who caused all of this.
Without warning, Junior looked at me and bellowed: “THAT’S IT, YOU ARE NOT GOING TO RUIN OUR CHRISTMAS.”
He reached in his pocket, pulled out his car keys and announced “I just bought a brand new Dodge. It only has 110 miles on it. It is not quite as fancy as your Buick out there in the yard but it is a good car.” He lifted his right hand and his car keys came flying at me as he said “You are going to take my Dodge and head to Connecticut.”
“Whoa, we can’t do that. There is supposed to be a blizzard tonight and we could be driving straight into it.”
“I don’t care. It’s just a car. You need to get going. By the time you get back, I’ll have the Buick running enough for you to drive it back where you bought it so they can finish fixing it.”
Without hesitating and giving me no time to respond, Junior walked over to the couch and pulled on my jacket:
“Come on, I am parked next to you. She has a full tank of gas in her. All we have to do is move the stuff from your car into mine and you can be on your way.”
It did not take Junior and I very long to move the gifts and luggage into his car. When we finished, I smiled and told him “Hey, this even smells like a brand new car.”
The meeting with the State Trooper was brief. Mrs. Trigger made him a cup of coffee. He took a few notes and asked Mr. Trigger to please fix his fences and then headed out into the developing snow storm responding to his flashing radio calls.
By the time she finished her coffee, Pat’s tears had stopped. She got up from the couch and walked over to young Tommy. They spoke for a moment and then from the corner of my eye, I saw her give him a hug as she told him how much she hoped his Dusty would be okay.
Ten minutes later, with snow pouring down, I hit the horn on the yellow Dodge several times as we backed away from the Trigger farm house. They were all standing and waving at us from the back porch. We kept the car windows open for as long as we could while we waved back and shouted “THANK YOU” and “MERRY CHRISTMAS.” Pat’s new tears were for a totally different reason.