Mom was in a panic.
She had looked away for an instant.
And her toddler had disappeared.
Christine, dressed in her warm, little woollen snowsuit had been playing happily in the front yard.
Mom had zipped into the house to check on her new baby.
Happily, rosily asleep in his cradle.
And now, seconds later, her eldest child was gone.
Frantically, Mom called and cast about for her little daughter's footprints in the snow.
Leading . . . toward the river.
Mom was off at a run.
A few seconds later, she was standing on the bank.
The little tracks meandered out onto the snow-covered ice.
To a large hole.
Mom stared at the patch of dark, swiftly-moving water.
Her entire life crashing about her ears.
She stepped out . . .
Then she realized that the little footprints didn't end there.
The trail turned and continued back to the bank.
Her heart beginning to beat again, Mom scrambled back up the bank.
And there was her little daughter, heading toward the barnyard.
Mom scooped up her baby and carried her back to the house.
Then spent the rest of the day alternately crying and hugging Christine.
Infinitely grateful for the divine intervention that had protected her daughter.
Mom raised all of her six children to adulthood on that ranch.
Rescuing them from such things as:
Altercations with the local livestock.
Wrangles with barbed-wire.
Differences of opinion with power tools.
An infinite number of scrapes and bruises.
And, yes, plucking them from the muddy jaws of death in a capricious river.
But she never forgot that moment of stark and frozen terror.
Standing on the bank of the river, looking at the trail of little tracks that ended at the great hole in the ice.
And how differently it could have ended.
Her very worst . . . and very best of moments.