Big Timber is one of those towns you pass by on the interstate at 75 miles an hour, and if you look out your window at all, it’s to wonder what people do who live there or if there’s a restaurant at which you could get a decent lunch. That’s today. That’s since the interstate was completed in the 1980’s. Before that, the four lane interstate rolled up to the edge of town and then collapsed into two lanes and slowed down to ran through main street, past the two hardware stores, one A & P,, five bars, and two gas stations.
It was into one of those gas stations that my bride and I pulled to gas up. We were using a Texaco credit card to drive from our old home in Wisconsin to our new home somewhere in Montana. We had been on the road for four days, taking far more time to cover the 2000 miles to the mountains in Montana than it should have taken, but we were newlyweds, and it didn’t matter to us where we spent each day. On the road was as good as apartment hunting. In the car was as good as starting whatever jobs we found.
What happened at that Texaco station in Big Timber, Montana, 1800 miles from Madison, could have happened anywhere but it happened in Big Timber and it was significant because of people who were near by but whom we didn’t see and because of events that wouldn’t happen for another ten years.
One gift we had been given at our Wedding was a picnic basket filled with fruit, cheese, bread and a bottle of champagne. We had eaten the fruit in Minnesota, the cheese in South Dakota, and the bread in Wyoming, but we had not yete opened the champagne. That we were saving as a celebration when we decided where in the mountains we would start our married life.
The champagne was not what we first thought of when what sounded like a rifle shot came from the back seat of our car while I was filling the tank with Texaco gasoline. Karen and I both assumed that we had reached a point in Montana where rifle shots on Main Street in the middle of the day were common-place and no one on the street around us seemed alarmed. It wasn’t until the picnic basket in the back seat began to make champagne fizzing sounds that we realized our celebration had begun early.
How early we didn’t realize until ten years later when we received a phone call from the Catholic Services Adoption Agency with whom we had been working and were told that a baby had been born in Big Timber, Montana–a baby whose birth mother had chosen us as adopting parents.
That the champagne popped on its own was no doubt related to the increasing elevation as we drove west, and I make no claims of divine, champagne-soaked intervention. But what I do claim is that what happened in Big Timber was a profoundly appropriate coincidence–a coincidence that at the moment that champagne cork popped 1800 miles from Wisconsin and 200 miles from what would be our new home, there was an eight-year-old girl in a small town in Montana playing on the front lawn of her house–a young girl who would one day choose us to be the parents of a baby we would name Emily. Perhaps that young girl, on the day when we were passing through her town, raise her head slightly at the sound of what might have been a gunshot on Main Street or the popping of a cork in a bottle of champagne.