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The Vault

Four years after retiring to Auburn, Mary Lou and I were excited to have all our children visit us for Easter.  All ten of us have gotten together several times over this time, usually during football season or at Christmas or Thanksgiving.   We also gather during the Summer at Compass Lake, which is a completely different experience.

Holiday visits are often stressful for everyone.  Families with school-age children are so busy during the year-end holidays.  There are semester tests, sporting events, holiday parties, and lots of food with sugar.  Also, there are other family visits to coordinate, especially during the Christmas season.   Multiple parents, in-laws, grandparents, are combined with organizing sibling families and cousins.  

We looked forward to their Easter visit because there would be no other distractions.  We were excited for our family to experience worship in our new church home.  There was also the A-Day game, the unveiling of the new statue honoring “The Big Hurt”, Frank Thomas, the only SEC collegiate player ever inducted into the Major League Baseball Hall of Fame.  

Also planned were more community events like Easter egg hunts and other sporting events.  It was a special weekend with so many family-oriented activities that would provide something for everyone, no matter what their age.

Then the rain came.  

For ten days we watched the forecast for heavy rains that were predicted for the Easter weekend.  Despite our wishes, the forecast for a cold rainy Saturday held firm    Eventually, the forecast for Sunday turned fair, but still much cooler. 

We did manage to make the dedication of the Frank Thomas statue.  My grandson, Will, had hoped to get a signature on his prized Frank Thomas baseball card from when Thomas was playing at Auburn.   It didn’t happen, but Will was able to see some great athletes gathered in the rain to honor The Big Hurt.  Nobody seemed to mind the rain.

The family chose not to go on the field before the game because of the weather, but at least our seats were covered and dry.  The food was perfect for kids, with a nacho bar, hot dogs, mac and cheese, cookies and ice cream featured prominently on the menu.

Plan “B” began to form as we realized the weather would not cooperate.  We made reservations to go to the Escape Zone in Auburn after the game.  It features a variety of escape rooms where participants are locked in different spaces and work to find clues allowing them to find a way out within an hour’s time.

Our family chose to do “The Vault’, perhaps the most challenging of all the alternatives.  We were divided into two rooms, with one being a bank vault and one being a bank lobby.  Before we entered, everyone had to give up their cellphone.  That is a rare accomplishment in and of itself.

Without giving away any clues, we spent the next hour trying to work together to figure out how to escape.  The two rooms had to communicate through the wall.  The people locked in each room had to work together as well.  Out of the ten family members participating, every single one contributed in some way to the solution.  

The clock on the wall seemed to move slowly at first, but towards the end we found ourselves calling out the decreasing time.  Ten minutes became five, and then two minutes, and finally we were counting down seconds.   At 29 seconds, we solved the final clue and the vault opened.  Our family escaped with high fives and backslaps all around.

Our planned dinner on the patio at Amsterdam’s was cancelled because of the unrelenting rain.  Kudos to Ben, a manager at Amsterdam’s, who called shortly before we entered the Vault to let us know the restaurant had a cancellation and we could now eat inside.   Perfect timing.

All the way through the appetizer course, we were still talking about the clues and solutions from our Escape Room adventure.  Three generations were still enthralled by our narrow escape just as time was running out.

Sunday was spent at church and enjoying not one, but two more big meals.  The day was extraordinary and worthy of another article.  Suffice it to say that just having my family fill a pew together on the holiest of the Christian holidays was beyond special.  

The Vault seemed to save the day.   A miserable weekend’s plans were changed only to become one of the most entertaining family gatherings we have had.  We worked together, solved problems, laughed, yelled, screamed, and managed to save the day with only seconds to spare and had fun.  So much fun.

The next day, as I sat in church, I looked down at the pew at the faces of everyone that I love the most.  Life is often like this particular Easter holiday visit.  Sometimes our plans go awry.  Often, we seem lost and locked down, as if in a vault.  When all seems hopeless, we find our way with a solution that was there all along.  You just have to believe.

Just like the message of Easter.


Dan Ponder can be reached at

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