Snow was in the forecast for yesterday, but didn’t sound like much to get excited about. A light dusting, they said. My husband Mike had a work call in Pell City over the mountain. He planned on doing a job down in Pelham after that. By the time he got through in Pell City it was snowing in fast and furious tiny flakes. He decided to skip Pelham. He got down the steep, twisty mountain before things got bad, but ran out of luck in Ashville, hardly five minutes from home. Some cars were already cross ways in the road, and traffic was jammed with parents trying to pick up their kids from school. Five minutes from home turned into an hour.
He made it to the main road in our community, but the hill was too much without chains and snow tires. The back-end of his Dodge Ram 2500 diesel slid sideways to the very edge of the ditch. The next turn coming up to our house was even steeper and the snow was a couple of inches thick from hilltop to hill-bottom.
Next thing I know he’s pounding on the door. “Get dressed for cold,” he said. “I’ve gotta have help. I’m getting the tractor.” I dashed for the bedroom and put on two pairs of pants, a t-shirt, a sweater, and my wool coat with a hood, and added a toboggan underneath the hood. Just before going out the door I remembered gloves. It was still snowing like crazy and the flakes hitting my face were like ice shards.
Mike had already gotten the tractor with front-end loader down the hill and positioned in front of the truck. I noted the slide marks from the truck were several yards long. He gave me instructions and I said I would follow them as long as he didn’t yell at me. “I-won’t-yell-at-you,” he enunciated. Okay. I held him to it.
He got the line hitched up and pulled taut. I put the truck in first gear, eased off the brake, and snapped off the emergency brake. We did REAL good. Mike got it — a l m o s t — to the top of the hill when stuff started slipping. I put on the brakes, Mike got off the tractor and I slid down my window. Already tense and defensive I said first thing, “I did everything you told me to.”
I could tell he was on his best behavior because in these situations he has to make a note to himself and you can tell he’s thinking, “Be-on-your-best-behavior.”Okay,” he said too kindly. “Why didn’t you give me a little help?”
“Whattaya mean? I did everything you told me to.”
“When you see I’m having trouble pulling, you’ve got to give the accelerator a little boost.”
“You said nothing about no accelerator,” I said defensively. “YOU SAID, do not touch the accelerator. I didn’t touch the accelerator.”
“Okay,” he said, even more kindly (like talking to a child), “we’ll have to back it down the hill and get another go at it. When you see the tractor straining or slipping over that last hump, give it a little accelerator .Oh, God, help me, I thought. I can’t back this thing down this hill. The hill has a curve in it.
But, bless Mike’s heart, he did hand signals as we backed, and did okay till I saw I was on the razor’s edge of the ditch on the right. I threw up both hands in a stopping motion and just sat till Mike climbed down and walked to the window.
“I’m about to go in the ditch,” I said.
“You’re not about to go in the ditch,” he said, still kindly.
“Yes – I – am. I – can – see – it”
“But I can see it better.”
After a couple of more rounds of this I threw up my hands and said, “If this thing goes in the ditch, I don’t want to hear one word. Not one word.”
So I backed it down just going by Mike’s hand signals. His hand signals got more and more frantic. So I stopped, he got down, etc.
“When I give you a signal, turn the wheels a little faster.”
“YOU SAID,” I said patiently, “not to turn the wheel too fast.”
“Okay. Not too fast, but faster than you have been.”
Sure enough. With Mike signalling and me turning the wheel a teeny bit faster, and me staring straight at Mike and refusing to look in the rear view mirror, we made it down the hill backward. On the trip back up, I gave a little oomph to the accelerator when we got to the final hump, and over we went. Hooray! But I was sweating inside my two pairs of pants, sweater, wool coat, toboggan and hood.
And Mike did real good. It was like an air-traffic controller talking a nervous non-flyer into landing a plane. I know the results would be vastly different. But my nerves wouldn’t see it that way.
I guess you’ve seen and heard by now that Birmingham, Alabama, and Atlanta, Georgia, were gridlocked. Pile-ups everywhere, people stranded in their cars, semis off the road or turned over. Lots of school kids and business employees had to spend the night where they were.
My sister Katie won’t drive if one flake of snow dares touch a highway, so she had to get a ride from a fellow employee at Amerex. She happily abandoned her car in the parking lot. My sister Gaynell works at Amerex, too, and Katie happened to see her on the way out. Gaynell’s supervisor had kept her group a little too long and she had missed her ride. Katie nabbed another volunteer to take Gaynell home.
Katie made it home with only a couple of harrowing close calls and praying all the way. Gaynell wasn’t so lucky. Her knight-in-shining-armor couldn’t get his horse(power) up the BIG hill she lives on. And it’s quite a ways from the bottom of the hill to the turn to her house. Then it’s a good way on farther. Gaynell is only a year younger than me, and I don’t think I could have made it walking in that cold and flying snow. But the good Lord was looking out for her. A teacher came by with a carload of women and just added Gaynell to the mix. He had chains on his tires.
These are just little personal stories compared to the really big ones out there on the highways. I don’t know how those in their cars kept from freezing overnight. At one point, the news went out that the police had to stop responding to traffic accidents. I could see why. One lady had her baby early and the father had to deliver it in the car. He was talked through it by EMTs on the phone. They had to tie off the umbilical cord with a shoelace. The woman told the reporter that just that morning she had said, “I hope I don’t have this baby in all this mess.” It wasn’t due till Valentine’s day, I think she said. They were finally able to get an ambulance to them and made it intact to the hospital where mother and baby are doing fine.