It’s snowing heavily. Wasn’t supposed to start until sometime after five tonight. Watching the big, fat flakes drift down has triggered a memory. I may have written this one before, don’t remember. So here goes.
We lived in southern Minnesota. I was 17, a senior in high school. My little brother, John, was three.
Mom had suffered severe problems for a long time with issues that finally led to her having surgery, a complete hysterectomy including her ovaries, which put her into medical menopause. It was March, when the area we lived in often got the worst blizzards of the winter. Dad had driven from St. James to the hospital in Madelia, a 15-mile trip, to spend some time with Mom. Johnny and I hunkered down for the day, played some games, read some of his favorite stories, and generally just relaxed.
I decided to make a big pot of hearty soup, knowing Dad would be hungry when he got back.
It was dark fairly early, but the heavy snow made it even harder to see clearly for any distance. I knew he was a capable driver, having grown up in the mountains of Colorado, but this blizzard had me worried.
As always, when one is worried, the time seemed to drag by. It was around four in the afternoon, and he should have been home by then. Since the snow was so heavy, I decided to turn on every light in the house, including the upstairs bedrooms, hoping that it would help him find his way home. We lived on the outskirts of town, with very few other houses nearby.
Meanwhile, Dad was crawling along the highway through some of the thickest snow he’d ever seen. The roads were slippery and obscured so that it was hard to tell where the shoulders dropped off onto the ground. Dad had planned to beat the storm, but like it is for us today, the snow started earlier than predicted. When he left the hospital, it wasn’t completely dark, but he had to drive slowly and the darkness soon settled over him. He had the windshield wipers going, and had turned his headlights onto low beam. In that kind of weather, high beam just creates a non-helpful glare.
There was a car a short distance ahead of him, and he followed the tail lights. But the car turned off well before Dad needed to, and he was on his own for a while. The wind was growing in strength, the snow thick and heavy. Always careful, he had a shovel, blanket, and overshoes, as well as gloves and his heavy winter overcoat.
He was delighted to see lights high above the car, and realized he’d caught up with a snow plow. Perfect! He followed it all the way to St. James, turning off into town. He drove through town and found our road, but there had been no plowing yet. Almost as soon as he made the turn, he was in snow so deep that he couldn’t move forward or backward, not even with the tire chains he always used in bad weather.
Well. He figured it was about a mile from where he was stuck to our house, so he bundled up with a hat that had earflaps and tied under his chin, put on his boots and gloves, wrapped the blanket around his shoulders, and grabbed the snow shovel. I don’t remember if he had a flashlight or any other type of lamp.
Of course, by this time I was truly concerned. Johnny wrapped his arms around my leg, asking me over and over where daddy was. “He’ll be home soon. It’s okay,” I would answer. In my heart, I wasn’t so sure.
The phone lines were down. The wind had done that. I was thankful we still had electricity and heat. All we could do was wait, and it truly did seem like forever.
Finally, there was a ruckus at the back door. The light was already turned on, and as I looked out the window in the door, I wasn’t sure what I was seeing. It was just a big shape, huddled under the porch light. Then, the shape moved and put its face right at my eye level, and I got the door open as fast as I could.
Dad just stood there for a moment, obviously worn out. Then he shook the snow off each foot, stepped inside, and began the long process of unwrapping all his winter protection.
“Smells good in here,” he said, removing that ugly but wonderfully protective hat.
“I made soup. It’s ready to eat. I also made biscuits.”
Finally, divested of the blanket, coat, boots, and gloves, he said, “Are you guys okay?”
“Yes, we’re fine.” I wanted to cry, but Dad was not into emotion. I wanted to hug him, but that was also a rare thing.
“You were smart to turn on the lights. It’s the only thing I could see, and without them I’m not sure I would have made it.”
That was high praise.
We sat down to enjoy our hot soup, and he told us the story of his journey home. Always a good storyteller, he kept us entertained until we were all full.
I was clearing up, washing the dishes, when I felt his hand on my shoulder. “You did good, Linda.”
P.S. I see that I did write this one before, called it “A Blizzard to Remember.” Some of the details are different, which goes to show you that memory really is elastic. Which story is closest to the truth? Don’t know. Can’t remember 🙂