Thursday, December 3, 2009

Over the River and Through the Woods

.... another Thanksgiving memory

People make fun of Kansas and how flat and boring it is; I know, I was one of them. In the last 36 years I have driven thousands of miles between my birth state of Missouri and my adopted Colorado, most of them on Interstate 70 ~ usually just as fast as I could get across. It is kind of scary, but in the past few years, I have begun to enjoy the drive. Kansas has a subtle beauty that I dismissed for years. And especially driving east, the closer one gets to the Missouri border the more rolling and forested the terrain becomes.

But the trip I am thinking about now is when my new husband and I were heading east for Thanksgiving Day dinner with my family at my sister’s house in Springfield, MO. The year was 1992 and the weather conditions were deteriorating by the hour. My son, about nine years old, was asleep in the back seat and my husband was snoring in the seat next to me. I was driving my Honda station wagon, concentrating on the road and listening quietly to the radio. The wind was ferocious, blowing snow across the road and I wondered how thick the ice on the road really was. It is during these times of snow packed roads that a driver begins to realize how “Not Flat” Kansas really is.

It was early afternoon and I was traveling in the right hand lane keeping ample distance between us and the car ahead. Up ahead I started to see brake lights and began to slow down. A semi-truck blew by me on the left and I was wondering what in the heck the driver was thinking. His speed was way beyond what the road conditions dictated. I quickly surveyed my situation. To my right the shoulder of asphalt dropped away, wouldn’t you know it, and in the blizzard conditions I had no idea how steep the drop off was. Where in the heck was the boring flat terrain that I always made fun of?

The semi up ahead of me suddenly slammed on his brakes. I watched his trailer begin to jack-knife across the entire road. For one second I was paralyzed with fear. Gently pumping my brakes I had a nano-second to consider my options. The other cars on the road were well spaced so I was not threatened from the rear. I could steer the Honda over the edge on the right and hope to drive it strait down the embankment, thusly avoiding rolling the car. Or I could aim for his rear tire which was now sliding away from me but appeared to be getting larger by the second. I chose the tire. It was so huge I hoped that I could bounce back off of it. I don’t know if I was swearing, definitely a possibility in this situation, or if my husband just felt the car slowing down, but he came too quickly and yelled out something. Miraculously the semi started drifting to left and into the medium. Still gently pumping the brakes I thought we might have a chance. Like a jockey in the Derby, I gently steered the Honda toward the space that was slowly opening up in front of me on the right hand side of the road. All of a sudden my windshield was covered with pink diesel fuel; as the semi went down into the medium, his gas line had ruptured. Excess energy shot out my fingertips ~ it only happens when I am scared to death. Furiously flipping on the wiper blades I tried to hold the car on what I hoped was “on-track”, but I had absolutely no vision out the slime streaked windshield.

As I braked to a crawl I slowly began to see what was happening. The state patrol had closed the road in front of us at the WaKeeney exit. I joined the slow moving line of vehicles headed to the off ramp. The energy inside our car was explosive. I wanted out of the car; I wanted my feet on the ground! We headed into one of the truck stop restaurants that were available.

A few minutes later we sat in a booth and my heart rate returned to normal. My son started crying quietly, saying he just wanted to see Grandma and Grandpa for Thanksgiving. Personally, I was just thankful to be alive. Bob got up and went over to talk to some truck drivers sitting at another booth. I held my little boy and thanked God for the opportunity to breath in the intoxicating smell of coffee and hamburgers. Bob returned and said he had found out how to travel east for a few miles and get back on the interstate farther down the road. I would have voted “No” but Walker was very excited about the prospect and so we decided to top off the tank and continue our trip.

It was comforting to think that most of our fellow travelers (the smart ones?) were holing up till the interstate opened again so there were would be fewer drivers to compete with. And the really good news is that we drove the rest of the trip with no problems. With Bob behind the wheel now, we headed east, slow but sure.

Over the asphalt and through the storm,
to grandmother’s arms we start.
The Honda is ready, our nerves are now steady,
With gratitude filling our hearts.

* annette.

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