Today, my oldest son Justin would be celebrating his 42nd birthday with us. Although his life was cut short while deployed with the USMC in Iraq on 01 October 2006, the morning after his 32nd birthday, our family chooses to celebrate his life.
Sometimes, that’s easier said than done, but this morning, I woke up remembering a humorous event that took place some years earlier–although, it wasn’t so humorous to me when it happened. Anyone who ever knew Justin Dale Peterson understands that humor was a part of who he is!
The end of Christmas break had come, the little red 1977 Ford Mustang (Justin’s first car) was packed to-the-max, and Justin and Patty were on the road again to Taylor University in Upland, Indiana. Given that it was early January, the weather in Michigan was bitter cold, compounded by a blustery wind that dropped the wind chill factor to sub-zero.
After whispering a prayer for their safety as they made their journey back to college in rural Indiana, I continued my normal morning routine. About an hour after their departure, my phone rang. It was Justin, calling from a pay phone at a gas station at U.S.-23 and M-59. He sheepishly told me that Patty and the Mustang were sitting in the middle of the median on U.S.-23, saying they had hit “black ice,” he’d lost control of the car, and they had come to a stop facing south between the north and south-bound ribbons of asphalt.
Seriously?! With all the salt that Michigan throws down in the winter?! It sounded like an excuse to me, since Justin had the reputation for horsing around most of the time. Are a barrage of questions about the well-being of the two kids and the car, I instructed him to go back to his vehicle, make sure the exhaust/tail pipe was unobstructed, and to keep the car running so they could stay warm until I got to the scene.
Although I felt badly that Justin had to walk a half-mile to make the phone call, stand outside at the pay phone to talk, and walk a half-mile back to his car, I built up an emotional “head of steam” as I drove from Davisburg to Hartland—picturing in my mind how my oldest son may have been goofing off and caused this “accident.”
Justin and Patty knew me quite well, knew how I might react once I knew that they were physically okay, and apparently had discussed my likely reaction.
Sure enough, when I pulled my vehicle onto the southbound shoulder of the freeway, the little red Mustang was sitting in the middle of the median as though they had deliberately driven it there to park, with the engine running and the windows steamed. Then again, the windows weren’t the only thing “steamed!”
After watching for a clearing in southbound traffic, and when there was a safe break in the stream of vehicles, I opened the door to the Dodge conversion van I was driving, stepped onto the pavement, slammed the door, and headed across the highway. The next thing I remember was picking myself up quickly from the road, as I continued toward the median!
Miraculously, Justin and Patty had straight faces by the time I reached their stranded vehicle, but I imagine that if there had been a “black box” recording the sounds inside that car as they observed my fall, it would not have been the sounds of silence, but hilarious laughter. They also knew that I had just confirmed the “black ice” story, as well, so there would be no scolding from me!
There was another time when I discovered “black ice,” but that’s another story for another time!
BTW, do you pray? If so, would you pray for Patty Harvey, Jared, Jayden, and Caitlin Peterson today? Today would be a great time to support them with your prayers, because this can be a tough day. Further, would you join us in thanking God for Justin’s life? That boy brought a lot of joy, laughter, and pride to our lives as his family, and we are forever grateful for the 32 years we were together!
Semper fi, son!