LAHARPE — Pastor Duwayne Bearden and his wife Debbie, from the Light of LaHarpe Church, are organizing a cookie drive intended to soothe the appetites and bolster the spirits of truck drivers compelled to travel the lonely highways Christmas Day. The donated cookies will go to the Blue Stem Truckers Chapel — located “between the fuel pumps and the garage” — at the Beto Junction truck stop, near Lebo.
According to Pastor Bearden, the LaHarpe congregation will bake a minimum of 25 cookie plates, consisting of eight to 10 cookies per plate. Congregants and guests — the Beardens encourage anyone with a soft spot for a solitary Christmas traveler to participate — will convene after church on Dec. 20 to wrap and package the plates, which will include complimentary gospel and Christmas CDs. Volunteers from the Beto Junction ministry will retrieve the cookies the following week, and spend Christmas Day surprising passing truckers with the donated items.
“A lot of these guys work on Christmas,” said Pastor Bearden, who, with Debbie, has participated in the cookie ministry for many years. “They’re away from home and on the road, but this is a way to let them know that there are people who care for them.”
IN 1973, country and western singer Red Simpson recorded an album, “Truckers’ Christmas,” which included a song called “Blue Blue Christmas (For this Truck Drivin’ Man).” A trucker-themed album wasn’t a novelty for the honky-tonk artist. Simpson (who bore an uncanny resemblance to the large-noggined Roy Clark, from TV’s “Hee Haw”) descended from a once popular subgenre of country music known as truck-driving country. A partial list of his hit singles will give some clue as to his subject: “Roll, Truck, Roll”; “Diesel Smoke, Dangerous Curves”; “Hold On Ma’m (You Got Yourself a Honker)”; “Truck Drivin’ Man”; “Truck Driver’s Heaven”; “Semi Crazy”; “Mini-Skirt Minnie”; and a song called “I’m a Truck,” which years later he thought better of and renamed “Hello, I’m a Truck.”
“This song,” says Simpson at the start of “Blue Blue Christmas,” “is kind of on the sad side of Christmas. It’s about a truck driver away from home on Christmas day…and I sure know how he feels.” The chorus is a slow, rocking wail: “I hate to be away from home, but I said I’d lend a hand / And it’ll be a blue blue Christmas for this truck drivin’ man / I can see my kiddies faces as they grin from ear to ear / As they open up their presents, they’ll say ‘Why ain’t Daddy here?’”
Next verse: “Sometimes a trucker must do things that tear him up inside / Like missing Christmas day at home when he has to drive.”
ACCORDING TO Bruce Johnson, the director of the Beto ministry, the tiny chapel behind the fuel bay in the shadow of I-35 handed out more than 400 plates of cookies in one day last year. And the church continues to receive cards of appreciation from truckers whose gratitude for the gesture gripped them as they disappeared down the road.
“When you hand out cookie plates [to truck drivers] and tell them ‘merry Christmas,’” reflected Pastor Bearden, “you’re touching people in New York, California, Oregon, Canada. It’s a far-reaching ministry.”
But, as Debbie Bearden points out, the rewards are for those whose efforts went into the baking, too. “It’s a way that our local people can be involved in missions. With this cookie ministry, people here understand that it’s happening just up the road. If they wanted to go visit the chapel, they could do it. It’s not like they’re having to go halfway around the world to do mission work.”
“Plus, with this thing,” added Pastor Bearden, “you can have people from ages 89 to probably 3 or 4 who can put cookies on a plate and wrap them up in a package. So it’s very inclusive of everyone. In that way they’re all blessed by being able to put that together and to know that it’s going to someone who needs it and that it’s going to put a smile on their face.”