By Amy McCollom
The other day, I started out the door to take my daughter to a doctor appointment in Champaign when something caught my eye. Sitting on the table in the dining room were several freshly washed and folded small fleece throw blankets. (If I was a guy, I would have just said blankets.) I had an inner twinge, or voice, or cramp, or whatever you call it. I just knew I needed to stop, go back, and grab the blankets.
I haven’t always listened to that twinge, and that has cost me dearly in the past. That’s why I stopped, and went back to get the blankets. The roads were frosty with a new dusting of snow, on top of what was already crushed onto them from days of winter white. It was slick, but some things cannot be avoided, and so we ventured out of town cautiously to our destination.
I have lived in central Illinois all of my life, so a snowy winter is an old hat to me. I have survived really rough winters with record snowfalls, cold and wind, an arctic vortex, ice storms, white outs, and snow days galore. I learned to drive through snow drifts, across frozen tundras, and on ice. My blood got thicker, and I got tougher. I’m kind of proud of that.
Every thick snowfall, although it has been nearly 40 years now, my mind goes back to the winter of 1981-82. I was a rebellious 16 year old teenager who didn’t always do what Mama said. In fact, I remember distinctly her telling me before she left for work that I was to stay home because a big snow storm was on its way. I was at that age when I felt like I was smart enough to test the waters and make a few decisions of my own. Young and foolish, I think it’s called.
I was persuaded to go against my mom’s orders by my boyfriend at the time, and go to a birthday party out in the country near Atwood. He picked me up in his beat-up Gremlin, and we headed out just before sunset. It wasn’t snowing; what did they know?
The party was at a friend’s house, who was a cousin to everybody, it seemed. I called him Uncle Bub. He had this outbuilding, a garage really, that was finished into the ultimate man-cave complete with a pool table, jukebox, bar, lights, and room to dance. Everybody called it Bub’s Pub.
It was quite the party, and I bet there were over 40 people who came and went throughout the evening. Since the only window was a small one, we couldn’t tell how much snow was falling. No one was listening to the radio or cared about the news; you could only hear the jukebox playing and pool balls smacking against each other. It wasn’t until someone came in covered in snow, saying they ran their car in the ditch that we realized that the snow storm had indeed hit. The room got quiet and we all realized that the party was over and real life had happened.
Uncle Bub and a couple other guys went out to see how bad it was, and came back covered in snow with bad news. The roads were already drifted shut. We all were stuck there. I thought to myself, “My mom is going to beat my hind-end!” Knowing how mad she would be when she found out I had gone to the party, I wouldn’t have doubted if she borrowed a snowplow and found me, just so she could whoop my butt all the way home. I wouldn’t have put it past her!
The wind picked up and the lights flickered and soon we all took shelter in the warmth of Bub’s tiny 1 bedroom house.
I was the youngest person there, by far. Everybody fell asleep, crowded on the couch, chairs, in the bathtub, on the floor, but somehow they let me and others sleep on the bed. I remember the wind was ferocious, especially out there in the country where nothing blocked it. It was cold and scary that first night.
The next morning it was still snowing and blowing. We woke up and were all hungry. Bub was single, a farmer who wasn’t big on cooking for himself. He ate most of his meals at the local cafe, so his kitchen cabinets held two cans of Campbell’s Soup For One, a box of crackers, and a can of beans. There were 12 people and very little of anything to eat. That first day, we didn’t have anything to eat until around supper time, and then some of the older girls took the soup and beans and some of Bub’s frozen hamburger and made a pot of chili. Everybody got a small bowl, enough to tide us over until morning.
Day two of being stranded was starting to wear on everyone. The small space of the house with the amount of people there made it uncomfortable to move around much. On the tv there was this commercial that I quickly grew to hate; it was a Burger King commercial of a whopper sandwich, a close-up, with big words popping that said “Aren’t you hungry?!” Yes! Of course we are hungry! I am about ready to eat the tv!
Bub and a couple other guys suited up and managed to make it to a nearby farmhouse and were able to collect a bunch of eggs from the chicken house and brought them back. The girls in the kitchen fixed up a mess of scrambled eggs and some meat from Bub’s freezer. I think it was sausage, but not sure from what animal. I didn’t ask, or care. That was around lunch time on day two. We were all really hoping we didn’t have to spend another night there, but there were three storms in a row that hit, and the wind and snow just kept coming. Again, our hopes were dashed when we found out the plows would not be coming.
Day three arrived and again there was nothing to eat at all. I can honestly say I have never been that hungry in my life. Bub had been making lots of phone calls trying to find a way to get us all into town, at least. Then good news came in the afternoon. There were a group of snow mobiles coming to rescue us! I felt joy rush over me!
We all did!
That afternoon we heard them coming. Bub and everybody were grinning ear to ear. I think Bub had a huge hand in organizing the rescue.
Next thing I know, everybody is putting on snowmobile suits, and somebody is suiting me up in one too. It was huge on me. I’ve never been very big, and at 16, I was swimming in that man-sized suit. Nonetheless, I had to wear it for the long, cold ride into town. The helmet was way too big, but necessary, so someone put a couple stocking caps on my head so the helmet would fit better.
Once we all were suited up and on the snowmobiles, off we went. I was so happy to be leaving the country and heading toward civilization! I could see town in the distance; just a little while longer. The ride was bumpy and I held on tight to the driver, and leaned when he leaned, just like riding on the back of a motorcycle. But all of that bumping and my helmet bouncing around loosely on my head, pushed the stocking caps down over my eyes and I couldn’t see anything!
I didn’t know when to lean or not lean, so I just held on tight and tried to anticipate the driver’s moves by feeling his body move. I was scared to death that I was going to make us crash!
Finally! We stopped and I was able to take off the helmet and the hats that were over my eyes. We were at my boyfriend’s parents house. We went inside and his mom, Evelyn, had made this huge feast of a meal! Oh bless her heart! Homemade mashed potatoes, fried chicken, baked beans, corn, rolls, noodles, and much more. Oh my gosh, I was in Heaven! There was enough food for all the rescuers and everyone rescued, and I have never had food that tasted so good in my life! Evelyn was, and is to this day, my angel.
After a hot bath and change of clothes I felt human again. I was happy as a warm pup. Then I remember I had to go back home. Fortunately, I suppose, the main roads had been cleared off enough for my dad to come and get me in the Trailblazer.
When I got home, there wasn’t a warm reception, or big dinner, or hugs or small parade. But at least there wasn’t a butt-whoopin either. I guess my mom figured I had endured enough and learned my lesson. And I did.
That’s why I stopped and picked up those blankets before I left for Champaign. Don’t ignore those unctions. And listen to your mama. It will save you a lot of harm in the long run.
Drive with your lights on in the winter. Even if you can see, make sure others can see you. It’s hard to stop quickly when it’s slick.
Prepare a winter emergency kit to keep in your car. It could save your life. A can, candle, lighter, blanket, granola bar.
Keep an eye on the weather. Drive slower than you think. Just because you are good at driving on slick roads doesn’t mean everyone else is.
Listen to your intuition. And your mama.