Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Silent Night, Snowy Night

Christmas night. 34 years ago.

How do I remember? Our son was a tiny baby. Cathy and I had moved to the West Coast and had flown back to New Mexico for Christmas. We both grew up in the same state. On different planets. But that's another story about how Clovis (her hometown) is more like Texas, ya'll. Socorro (my hometown) is more like, uh, New Mexico.

Those towns are 250 miles apart. No wonder we had to move to Arizona to meet in college.

We flew into Albuquerque for the holiday. My parents lent us their late model Ford, and we drove to the eastern edge of the state to spend a few days with Cathy's family.

We enjoyed a huge Christmas dinner (that's a noontime meal in our part of the world, folks). Loaded into the car with baby Sean napping, we took off for the 5 hour drive to my parents'.

A few hours later, as darkness fell and with about 90 miles of highway in front of us, snow started falling. We kept driving, noting the gathering white stuff on the roadside, but with the warm asphalt just a little damp.

We were making good time on that two-lane highway and had high hopes of escaping the snow when we descended from high plains into the Rio Grande valley. By the time we reached the last town of any size -- still about 65 miles from our destination -- the snow was becoming thick slush on the road.

You know cell phones? They weren't even in Gene Roddenberry's imagination back then. I stopped at a pay phone right next to a tiny Motel and dialed long distance to my folks. I asked if we should just get a room for the night. Dad said it wasn't snowing there and we'd probably drive right out of it. Besides, if we didn't arrive within two hours, he would come and find us. We got back on the road.

Cars were few in number to begin with that Christmas night and they kept turning back in the ever-deepening snow. Finally, as we rounded the last bend before the road straightened and gradually descended into the valley, an old service station offered a beacon of hope. The car in front of us pulled in and nestled next to all the others finding shelter there.

Cathy begged me to stop. But my dad had told me to come so I doggedly kept moving. We soon realized that we were all alone on the highway and it was almost 20 miles to the Interstate.

By this time the road was but a white ribbon and the snow was falling so fast I could hardly see out the windshield. Every mile was marked by a small reflector on a pole. The brightness of the night helped me keep my bearings until I could see the reflection of my headlights off in the distance.

We counted the miles as we drove down the middle of that highway. We prayed.

And somehow we made it.

The snow was heavy the entire journey. When we arrived, my dad said, "I had no idea when you called what this storm was becoming. If I had known, I would have had you get a room and wait."

Many Christmases have now filled the memory books of our lives. None felt quite as frightening and treacherous as that silent, snowy night.

Have you had a Christmas scare? Care to share it?


beckiwithani said...

I remember driving in that same area, but this time it was from Albuquerque to Clovis, on Christmas Eve. I was a teenager (maybe early 20s?), and you let me drive. We left Albuquerque when it was just starting to snow. Then, on the way, the ice started. The snow was heavy enough that it was hard to see, and the roads got slipperier and slipperier. I drove white-knuckled until I couldn't take it anymore, and then I pulled over and you drove the rest of the way! It really hit home to me then how dangerous icy roads can be -- they'd taught us in Driver's Ed, but I'd never really KNOWN before.

C. Beth said...

Every time I hear that story my heart races a little!

I remember shortly after we moved here, we went to Clovis (the day after Christmas I think) to see Mamma and Papa and also you guys. The Lubbock airport was closed due to ice storms--we were supposed to fly. We decided to drive instead. The 8 hour trip took 15 hours, over the span of 2 days. The scariest part was getting to a small town and realizing we couldn't go further; it just wasn't safe with the icy roads, in the dark. And then we found out every hotel room was full. What a relief when we called you (yay, cell phones!) and found out we had distant relatives living there. They welcomed us; we stayed the night; the ice started thawing, and we got to Clovis.

But The Engineer made a hard and fast rule. We will never again attempt to drive somewhere if the airport is closed due to bad weather!

Sam said...

I've noticed the Clovis is the constant in each of these stories. Must be a dangerous place!

Becki, do you remember that after I took over driving that night, we saw a car upside down next to the road and -- a little later -- a fire truck creeping along the icy highway headed to the accident?

Go, engineer!

Dina said...

I've lived in the Midwest my whole life and driven on more treacherous winter roads than I care to remember. However, one Christmas trip stands out. Several years ago, both my younger brother and I were living in Minneapolis, MN and we headed home to western ND for Christmas - stopping in Fargo, ND to meet up with my older brother and sister-in-law along the way. Due to different return trip schedules, we were all in separate cars. The roads were okay for about the first hour of the roughly four hour trip, but then we had to slow way down as we started encountering periods of white-out conditions and patches of black ice. We started seeing quite a few cars that had recently slid off the road into the ditch. At one point, as I checked on my younger brother through the rearview mirror, I saw his Blazer doing a 360. After making sure he was okay, we decided to press on and reevaluate at the next city, which was a little over an hour from home. Even though we were all exhausted, we had made it through the worst of it and decided to keep going. It was the night before Christmas Eve and we all really wanted to get home. I think a few of our decisions along the way would have been different had any of us had children at the time. :)

Cathy said...

A little addition to Sam's story (from "the wife") - we had flown to NM so we didn't have a car seat with us so I was holding our precious 3 month old on my lap. So unsafe. So scary. It's one of my scariest memories...

Sandra said...

Sam -- No Christmas scares, but since we live in northern Indiana, we have had plenty of snowy road scares! I felt like I knew exactly how this felt as you told the story. Driving in a snowstorm at night -- sometimes beautiful but always treacherous!