O Little Town of Crawfordsville

It was the best of both worlds – our family farm sat right on the eastern edge of Crawfordsville, Iowa – population 298.  That meant the freedom to run and explore in ways only a farm kid can understand, but it only took a short bike ride up the hill and into town to hang out with the “town kids.”

For a nine-year old, Christmas in Crawfordsville was magical.  For a few weeks Kenny Rhea’s grocery store actually had a toy section!  And, of the few toys on the shelf, I knew I had to have the “Jungle Jim Safari Collection” which included a pith helmet and plastic rifle which made authentic rocochet sounds.  It didn’t fire any kind of bullets, so I couldn’t shoot my eye out – but it sure sounded cool.  And that year it was under the tree on Christmas morning!

Crawfordsville didn’t have stoplights, only one flashing yellow at the main intersection to slow down the busy U.S. Highway 218 traffic as it made its way through the heart of our tiny town.  We had three gas stations, one on each end and a DX right in the middle.  My dad divided his loyalties – using the Sinclair station for mechanical work and the DX for “tractor gas.”  But mostly Dad purchased our “regular gas” at John McNeil’s Standard Station because John went to our church and he and my dad were lifelong friends.  Every year, we knew we would get a plastic ice scraper at Christmas from John’s gas station.

Compared to the sights of the big city that we’ve enjoyed since those days, Crawfordsville’s Christmas decorations weren’t much – but to me they were spectacular!  They consisted of about a dozen single strands of colored bulbs stretched across Highway 218 every fifty yards or so, from one end of town to the other – all the way from John’s Standard Station to Harold Williams’ Sinclair.  But even better was the year that county seat Washington, Iowa (population 7,000) bought new decorations for itself and gave hand-me-down decorations to Crawfordsville to hang on the light poles.  Now that was exciting!

Crawfordsville had two churches – the Presbyterian Church which was about a block off the main road, and the Methodist Church which sat right along the highway.  Every year the two church’s youth groups combined to present a live nativity scene in front of the Methodist Church for the benefit of those driving through town.  And every year, the request would come to my dad “..you suppose it’d be okay if we borrowed one of your cows?”

And so, for several cold nights in December, it was my job to take one of our Jersey milk cows away from the warmth of the barn, lead her through the dark streets of Crawfordsville and tie her up at the live nativity scene…along with the sheep and pigs (and, of course, the youth group kids as Mary, Joseph, wisemen, etc…)  I often wondered whether pigs in a live nativity were historically accurate, but there they were!

On one windy, snowy evening at the nativity, traffic was nearly non-existent on 218 and it was 9:00, time to close up for the night.  One lone 18-wheeler slowly rumbled by and we didn’t think a thing of it – until we noticed that after the truck had passed, it turned into the Crawfordsville elementary school parking lot and stopped.
The driver, with no jacket, hopped out of the cab and walked back to our little nativity scene, holding a thermos in one hand.  I was about to head home with my cow and anxious to warm up.
“Hey, nice cow…” said the driver.  “Want some coffee?”  I said “No, I have to get home, she’s getting cold.”  He said “Well, I just want to thank you for being here and reminding me of what Christmas is about.”

Then, for the next few minutes, this middle-aged, lonely, over-the-road truck driver on his way to Saint Louis shared that he believed in Jesus, but his kids rarely saw him and were not following the Lord.  And then he asked me, just a kid, if I would pray for him.

So I prayed for this man and his family the best I could, milk cow at my side.  The driver said “Thanks so much, that helped.  Merry Christmas!”

We were all freezing.  He took off for his truck and the cow and I headed for the barn.  I never knew the driver’s name, but I’m sure our Savior did.  And, on that wintry night, I know He heard that prayer coming from a little town in Iowa.