(This is another special posting by Suzy. I hope you enjoy it.)
This morning we woke to the results of an ice storm. The tree branches were sheathed in about half an inch of clear ice that bent the limbs into tortured angles. The incongruously heavy limbs of the willow were stuck to the ground. The proud heads of the pines were bowed over as if in prayer. The good news was that the groundhog didn’t see his shadow so there would only be six more weeks of winter; instead of when he sees his shadow and we anticipate forty-two more days. Anyway, in the sense of deja vu that Groundhog Day has come to mean I thought back to 29 January 1969, which was a very similar morning.
As I struggled out of the depths of a very pleasant sleep in the comforting warmth of a bed that can only come in the middle of winter, I heard Moma prattling on that Daddy had only just arrived at his office. The roads were terrible and I need to allow extra time to drive to school. Oh, yes, school. This was to be my last semester at Kutztown State College, and I needed to get to campus for registration. I had managed to arrange for my student teaching to be in Pottstown. That was as far as the supervision from Kutztown went, and it was halfway between school and home. That meant that I could live home rather than pay dorm fees or rent an apartment in town. I would only have to drive to campus once a week. But today was one of those days. I didn’t want to have to pay late fees so I forced myself from bed and over to the window. The trees, lawns, walks, street and cars all glistened from the ice. It was a true winter wonderland. Absolutely beautiful and positively treacherous. I put myself together and went to breakfast, where I found my brother, Jim, already at the table. Moma had rousted him out of bed as well even though his high school was closed due to the weather. She informed me that he was going with me. This was a puzzle as he was only 15 and didn’t even have a permit to learn to drive. Moma said he could carry a bag of salt to put under the tires if I got stuck. One look at Moma’s face told me this was going to be an argument I wouldn’t win.
Jim and I bundled up and headed for my car, my very first. I had bought it just last summer in anticipation of needing it to student teach. It was a small, Buick sedan; a bit boxy but it worked and it was all mine. Jim sat in the passenger seat. Moma put the bag of salt in his lap. We closed the doors, I took off the emergency brake, and the car slid down the driveway and into the street. I hadn’t turned the engine on yet. This was not an auspicious beginning to the trip. I started the car and eased it down the street with Moma walking alongside to be sure we were all right. Was she planning to walk the entire way? As we turned the first corner and I checked the rear view mirror I saw her begin to pick herself up off the ground. I began to stop so we could go back and help her, but she waved us off. As I pulled onto the main street, Jim said that he thought she had hurt herself badly, but also recognized the fact that she wouldn’t be pleased if we can back. So we pulled into the first gas station. At that time there was still a gas station on just about every corner. My first call was to Daddy who then was head of housekeeping at Lankenau Hospital. He informed me that the place was a zoo with all the accidents occurring around town and he wouldn’t be able to come home for her. I told him I would call Walt, who I knew was home. As I dialed the phone I prayed that Walt would be the one to answer because girls didn’t phone boys. No such luck, his mother answered. Walt and I weren’t even formally engaged, so now I was also worrying about what she must think of me. I explained what had happened, and she told me that she would pass on the message as soon as he got back from the dentist office. Having noticed how thick the ice was, Walt had put on his cleated track shoes to run to the dentist office, which was about a mile straight down the road. He knew the office would be open because Dr. Make’s office was in his home. I hung up crawled back into the car. Jim and I took a deep breath, and off we went.
As we got close to Pottstown, the halfway point of the trip, the roads seemed to be getting better. We had some low-lying snow fog. The thought of late fees began to dominate my mind. Jim and I talked about whether it would be better to take the back roads, a shorter route, and hopefully make up some time, or stay with the main roads and most likely be late. Having been raised as Navy dependents, punctuality was super important. We decided to snake through the back roads. Somewhere south of Fleetwood, I found a slick patch and began slaloming between the telegraph poles that line the two-lane road we were on. After the fourth pole the car went clear across the road, nose dived into the drainage ditch alongside the field, bounced up and out and landed on all four wheels in, what I think, was a potato field. Jim and I were both under the steering wheel with salt falling like snow all around us. You might ask, “Why weren’t those silly children wearing their seatbels?” Most cars then didn’t have them. After we untangled ourselves, Jim offered to throw salt under the wheels. At least that caused us to laugh, because crying wouldn’t have helped anyway. We accessed out situation and noticed the utility road off to our right. We got out and looked at the car. There wasn’t any body damage, though the front tires looked a bit pigeon toes. We assumed that was because of the way it landed and they would straighten out once we got back on the road, so we picked our way to the road between the fields, and back onto the two lane road, and on to Fleetwood and then Kutztown. I mentioned to Jim that the roads didn’t seem to be getting any better and I was having difficulty steering. Just west side of Kutztown on Route 222 was a GM dealer, where I pulled in to see if they could look at the car. It was still pigeon toed and we were already late. The gentleman in the service department just laughed at me. He said that they would be busy for 3 weeks with all that had happened that morning, but I was welcome to leave the car. Jim and I got a ride back to campus where I registered and we called home to see what was happening there.
Mother had told Walt about Moma as soon as he got back from the dentist. He got his car, a ’59 Dodge with huge fins that we had nicknamed Super Belch-fire 8, and began to go from his parents home to mine. The trip usually took about five minutes, through pieces of two housing developments, with one small valley between. There were some kids sledding down the one side of the valley. He waited until they moved to the side and began down. As he was coming back up one kid started down on his sled, Walt swerved and brushed the curb with his right front tire. No harm done, he continued to my parents where he found Moma gritting her teeth as she held an ice bag to her wrist, and my grandmother beside herself as she didn’t know what to do. Walt got Grandmom calmed down, put Moma in the car and started out for Lankenau Hospital where he found Daddy waiting. Moma had shattered her wrist when she had put her hand out to stop her fall. A fairly common injury in that sort of situation. It required pins to be put in surgically. As they took Moma to surgery Daddy told Walt he could go home and take care of things there. Walt had finished his undergraduate work with the fall semester and was going for a job interview just after lunch. As things were settling down from the storm, Daddy took Moma got home as soon as the doctor was done. By the time Walt got back to his home, I had spoken to my grandmother and his mother in an attempt to find out what was happening and get Jim and me a ride home. Mother said she would send Walt for us as she wasn’t sure how badly hurt Moma was, and thus didn’t know if Daddy would be able to come for us. She and I set a place on campus that Walt would be able to find. Between the storm and the fact that this was a registration day Kutztown’s campus began to close down. While I was an undergraduate we joked about the “townies” rolling up the sidewalks at the end of the day. Kutztown was a very small, rural community, just far enough from city life to give us all plenty of time to study. This was one afternoon I wasn’t very happy with the quiet. Jim and I went to the lobby of Schaeffer Auditorium. There we could stand out of the weather and have a clear view of Route 222, which then went through the center of campus. As if it could, the day got grayer and fog began to roll in just like in a horror movie. This couldn’t be happening. This was supposed to be a spectacular year. I was going to complete my last semester and become the first in my family to get a college degree, I had a job lined up within an easy commute of my parents house, Walt and I were talking about getting married…. Then the janitor came by and said that he wanted to lock up the auditorium. It was bad enough I would be standing in the raw weather, but I had my little brother with me as well, and we had no idea how long it would take Walt to get there. We must have looked pathetic. The custodian took pity on us and told us to stay inside, he would lock the door so that all we would need to do was shut it behind us.
The wait seemed interminable. We didn’t know, but Walt had had to stop at a repair shop on his way to us. When the tire brushed the curb to avoid the sledder he bent the spindle on the right front wheel. He got a temporary repair so he could collect us. It was almost dark by the time Walt pulled into the drive. Jim and I literally ran to the car. Just take us away. Walt wasn’t in such a hurry. He was hungry andanticipating a long drive home. We went to a diner on the west edge of campus that many students frequented for a quick meal. Did I mention that Walt’s car was a large Dodge as only American cars from the late 50s could be. It was an automatic with a wide front bench. We sat three across for the ride home. No more small, back roads. We went east to Macungie and down Route 100. I was exhausted and we were safe. I didn’t care how long it took us to drive home and didn’t even notice the fog getting heavier. For most of the ride down Route 100, Jim had the passenger side window down looking for the side of the road. I was more or less looking out the front window telling Walt by the feel of the ride to ease right, swing left, the road is now going to curve…. It was close to 11pm before he got us home. Instead of being pleased that we were safely home, Moma a mad that it was so late. What had we been doing while she sat with a very sore arm worrying?
Walt’s day wasn’t quite over. When he got home his Mother told him that he had had a call from Tim, his dorm’s Residence Manager. The cold had burst the water pipe in the dorm and Walt’s room had been flooded before they could get the water turned off. Tim wanted to know what to do with Walt’s belongings.
Both of our cars needed repairs. Walt’s car had the spindle problem, mine had a broken tie rod. Moma needed more surgery to remove the pins from her wrist as it healed. The year did turn out to be a good one, though. Walt and I got our undergraduate degrees. We got engaged and wed in August. He began working for Burroughs, and I began teaching for Lansdowne-Aldan school district. We both began graduate school. But January 29th was a day for the books.
The last word:
It was a very long day.
Keep your sense of humor.