Our send-off crowd...little did I know that Lori, in the brown, would surprise me and show up at my wedding!
Well, the trip from California to Minnesota was not uneventful, but praise God we had some great answers to prayer! We got a later start than hoped for, but in the end it turned out well. My former church, Calvary Life Fellowship, had a great send off for us. Pastor Luke had a wonderful message about letting go and freely leaving. This was after the Sunday School kids and I led praise & worship. After the sermon, we had a huge spread, a pre-wedding reception, complete with a wedding cake that was a gift from Jennifer Sanders, a dear friend of mine. We took the top layer back with us, but it didn't last too long! Several other friends of mine also came to church that day for a final farewell....fun and nice to see them, but sad to say goodbye. Before lunch was served, I'd ran out to the car for something and noticed SOMEONE had tied cans to the bottom of our car and Penske rental truck (those same cans just happened to be sitting on Luke & Mandy's kitchen counter the day before....). When I went back in, I whispered to Tony to cut the strings, which he did -- artfully hanging the strings so no one would be the wiser. Little did we know.... I don't know if someone saw him or if one of the strings fell, but the strings were retied before we took off..... (Looking back now, six years later, I'm still amazed at the send off we had. I very much miss my friends back at Calvary Life, and appreciate even more the love they shared with us.)
Tony and me with our first wedding cake at Calvary Life Fellowship
The next day was uneventful, although during the short time that I took over driving the fully-loaded truck, we had some pretty strong winds on a small state highway in Gillette, Wyoming...it felt like I was going to end up tilted over a few times, but thankfully the winds died down. We stayed in Wyoming that night and got a good start the next morning. After making it through the rest of the mountains, we decided to take a small interstate (85) that would cut off several hours from our travels. It goes from the bottom of South Dakota up to I-94 which would take us home. I don't know if any of you are familiar with route 85, but after going through the small town of Belle Fourche, there is literally nothing for 71 miles until you get to a small town called Buffalo...then literally nothing again for another 45 miles until you get to Bowman...after that it's only 32 miles until the next small town, and a short 26 miles until reaching I-94. Well, I shouldn't say "literally nothing." There are plenty of antelope in the fields along the two-lane highway...and about 40-some miles north of Belle Fourche, there is a small convenience store called Crow Buttes...it has a couple tables for hungry travelers, some souvenirs, and a gas pump. (and seriously, folks, that's all that there was....no homes to see, no exits, no side roads, nothing...)
Why am I telling you all this? Well, about six miles past Crow Buttes, Tony veered off the road. Initially, LaMae and I thought he was pulling over to see the herd of antelope...until I saw the front left tire rotating diagonally. We're still not sure what the problem was, perhaps the tie rod or the axle, but that was when a bit of panic set in...what in the world were we going to do? I don't know how many saw our truck before we left, but that thing was FULLY loaded! We had horrible thoughts about having to unload and reload into another truck, and no one knows better than Tony, Ted Bultsma, James Hansen, and Jerome Foster Sr. that THAT possibility was close to impossible. I'm still not sure how they got everything into the truck in the first place! Luke and Mandy also had the front completely loaded down with wedding flowers and my wedding dress...there was just enough room for Tony and a small cooler in the cab. After thanking God that Tony was able to pull over okay, LaMae and I set out in the car to find a phone. (I didn't have a cell phone then, and even if I did, there was no way we'd get service out there!) We drove back to Crow Butte and called Penske. After explaining to the man on the phone what the problem was (oh yeah, did I mention that Saturday after we loaded the truck, James and Tony noticed that same front tire wasn't round? It was kind of square. We took it back to the place where we picked up the truck and asked them to change the tire. The guy told us "oh, it's okay; that's just because the alignment is off...you'll make it there with no problem. However, you can always go to the Penske service station and see what they think." We opted to do that; the service station opted to change the tire; we thought that was the end of that....were we WRONG!), I was glad when he told me "we found someone to tow you." I asked, "to Belle Fourche? Buffalo? Bismarck? Tow to where?" wondering, what will happen then? I was stunned when the reply was "all the way to Park Rapids." Wow! That was about 650 miles! No worries about transferring items; we didn't have to pay for gas in the truck for the remainder of the trip, and the best thing....we didn't need to return the truck! We were going to have to return it to Minneapolis, about a 3.5 hour trip each way. Praise God! No, actually the best thing was that Tony and I finally got to ride together :) We did, however, have to wait for just over six hours for the tow truck to arrive...but I wasn't about to complain about that. After finally getting on the road around 6:00, we ran into a blinding snow storm. There wasn't alot of snow, but it was whirling quite severely and by the time we reached I-94, it was next to impossible to see while driving...and when someone would pass, we were blinded for almost a minute or more until the snow settled a bit. We stopped that night in Bismarck while the tow truck continued home. The next day we made it to Park Rapids without further incident and were warmly welcomed by Tony's parents.
Within the next couple weeks, we got things unpacked and started welcoming visitors. Tony's sister and her family ended up coming home unexpectedly from Indonesia. Because she is close to her due date, they weren't expecting to be able to travel home for the wedding. However, with the war starting, their team leader thought it would be best for them to return in case things heated up more...and before it was too late for her to travel. Soon, more and more family and friends started arriving...the week of the wedding, Faith Baptist (my new church) had a "mixed" shower for us -- men and women. We had a great time. Later that week, the day before our wedding, Tony's sister Carla (from Ethiopia) and his sister-in-law Lori hostessed a personal shower/tea at LaMae's house. There were around two dozen ladies and girls there; as Anna (his 4-year-old niece) told me when I asked where Ruby (his 2-year-old niece) was "this is only for BIG girls!" All the gals wrote down a piece of advice for me for marriage...every bit very much appreciated. (Six years later, Tony's sister added yet another little girl to their family along with the one she was carrying then...and they live in the Philippines now. His other sister Carla is no longer in Ethiopia...they have since moved to Uganda...and are now living in Rome)