Molly McCay found herself in the middle of a holiday traveler's nightmare Monday. Miles from home with four kids, car trouble struck at the most inopportune time.
But the kindness of strangers set the stage for the type of blessings that make the Christmas season special.
McCay lives in Temple, Texas, where her husband, Staff Sgt. John McCay, is stationed. He is an EOD team leader in the 75th EOD at Fort Hood. In order to share the holiday season with her family, she had traveled to Bartlesville with her four children to be with family while he was pulling bomb support duty for homeland defense in the greater part of Texas.
McCay left on a Friday, traveling through the ice storm and arrived safely. On Monday, she loaded the car with clothes and gifts, and began the long trip back to Temple to be with her husband for Christmas. But on I-35 between Ardmore and Gainesville, she began experiencing car trouble.
"My car started acting funny, and it was stuck in gear," McCay said. "I looked for dealerships, and found Billingsley Ford and talked to Dawnita (Kennedy), who was the sweetest lady ever. She talked me down and gave me directions, and I wound up there."
The trip to Ardmore was stressful in itself, with McCay only able to reach speeds of 20 mph going uphill on I-35. Adding to the uncertainty of how she would be able to reach home with the children, McCay was stressed, even for an Army wife.
"It was pretty impossible," she said. "I don't even know how to explain it. I get used to being a mom on my own sometimes. My husband is busy at work and has been deployed three times. I am used to being on my own, but I wasn't ready for that. I have a 2012 car and have only had it for three months. I wasn't sure how I would be able to afford another car."
Upon arriving at Billingsley Ford, it was determined the car would not be able to be fixed in time to get McCay on her way home. At that point, a small car was located at a rental place that would allow McCay to reach Dallas, at which point her grandparents would meet her and take her to Temple. And that is when the Christmas spirit of giving began to set in.
John Halley, assistant service manager, said he found out about McCay's plight after she arrived, and conferred with Kevin McGuire, customer relations manager, about finding a way to help McCay.
"We thought it would be a good idea to get her in one of our vehicles, and presented it to (owner) Mike Billingsley, who thought it was a good idea," Halley said.
At that point, employees at Ford Billingsley had helped McCay unload her car and put everything into a service van, which was on its way to pick up the rental car.
"Kevin called our driver and had her come back," Halley said.
When McCay came back to Billingsley Ford, Mike Billingsley and other dealership employees were waiting to present her with a car that she could drive home at no charge.
"Mr. Billingsley had a car exactly like mine, and unloaded the van himself," she said. "He let me take a car of his so I could be with my husband."
The decision was made in part in appreciation for the service of McCay for his country. And it was the type of decision that spreads the Christmas spirit.
"At this time of year, it's great to be able to help someone," McGuire said. "And we appreciate her husband's service to our country. It delighted the whole dealership."
"At this time of year, it really gives you a boost," Halley added. "To see what she is putting on Facebook, everyone is happy and proud. She gave us big hugs and thanked us. It just made us feel good."
And it allowed a grateful, emotional McCay to have a fond memory of what could have been one of the worst holiday memories of her life, as well as great memories for her children.
"My 9-year-old son, Nathan, was sitting in the front seat talking and said, 'I sure prayed someone would help us, and he (Billingsley) didn't have to do that. He is a great guy'," McCay said. "The only thing he asked me to do was thank my husband for his service.
"But we also thank him for his service. He didn't have to do that."