Sunday, December 14, 2008

Adrift

I promise I'll get back to my Advent stories tomorrow, but tonight I'm too exhausted.  E, my sister the Dump and I left my youngest sister's house at 7am this morning, my brother-in-law driving ahead in the big ol' flatbed they call BW (or "Beats Walkin'") on the farm.  He was our escort because a swift wind had blown snow all over the place, including across the gravel road on which they live.  My little Matrix, with its all-wheel drive, had no problem navigating the steep, windy hill around the corner from their house, though every drift spewed snow into the windshield, blinding E, who was driving.  At the bottom of the hill, just yards from the paved county road, we slammed into a drift and stopped, my little car high-centered.  BR (my brother-in-law) backed BW up, hooked a chain to the front of the car and, slick as a whistle, pulled us out.  Honking and waving, we turned onto the paved road, certain we'd be 'home free' from there on.  We had to get across the state in time for the Dump to catch her flight from SeaTac to LA at 3:30 pm.  Surely we would make it in time, with only that short delay.
If only...!
About halfway to town, just up the hill from the road down to the Snake River, we rounded a corner past a pickup nose down in the drift-covered ditch and plowed into an even higher drift.  I got into the drivers seat, while E and the Dump pushed futilely from behind.  Then they dug out from in front of the wheels and we tried again.  About that time, E saw a snow plow down the hill, and went running toward it clad only in sweatshirt and jeans, though wearing cowboy boots, thankfully. Eventually, the Dump ran after her and I was left to guard the car.  While they were gone, a man stopped and I rolled down my window.  "Where you coming from?" he asked.  I told him who my sister and brother-in-law are, and he nodded, then asked, "Which Crain are you?"  I smiled, thinking of how I'd written a similar scene in my book--total strangers meeting and knowing each other by family connections, clear out in the country.  It turned out my mom was his 4th grade teacher.  We passed the time a little while he searched under the back of my car for a place to hook a tow rope.  "These new fangled cars are all plastic," he said, shaking his head.  Then he excused himself to drive his wife, her 150 cinnamon rolls and chicken gravy into town for their church potluck.

About twenty minutes later, three more vehicles had rolled up behind me--three oversized 4 wheel drive pick-ups, with wives keeping warm in the passenger seat, and three men, in white shirts and ties under well-worn Carthart coats, were standing around, kicking my tires, laying on their bellies to see what the problem was, and catching up with their neighbors.  I was wishing I had some hot cocoa to pass around.  By then, E had been gone a very long time, so the Dump (who'd returned frozen in her tennis shoes) ran back down the hill carrying E's coat, because it was after all, only about 7 degrees F, and E had been shivering for an hour.  A while later, up the hill came the biggest pickup of the morning, with E, the Dump and my brother-in-law's nephew, Doug.  I'm telling you, it's a VERY small world out there among the Palouse hills.  And most of the folks you meet look for the connections among them, but are glad to help even if they don't know you at all!  E told us that when she knocked on Doug's door, he recognized her and said, "Uh-oh!" Then threw on some overclothes while his wife tried to ply E with hot cocoa, thicker gloves, a hat and a coat. 

When he reached my car, Doug hooked his chain to our front bumper and began to pull (every single one of these men seem to drive around with thick pull-chains in their trucks, just in case!). And nothing happened.  He stepped a little harder on the gas, and still we simply sat there, while his rig was edging closer and closer to the ditch.  Finally, he decided to turn around and pull that way, but as he turned...the pickup slid into the ditch so deep, the back wheels of his rig came off the ground. 

There was a whole lot more standing around then, I can tell you.  Farmers take a long time looking at situations, retelling the story to each other as if they hadn't all just witnessed it together, it seemed from where I sat. By then, the Dump and I were trying to decide whether she'd ever get home today, whether we should go back to our sisters, and even why the heck we'd even come to this forsaken place...E, still shivering, stood out with the big boys, kicking tires and commiserating about the ice and ditch story!  Before the frozen farmers got to the 5th or 6th telling, fortunately, a GIANT Cat-snow plow came trudging up the hill, lights blinking, plow pushing snow out of the way like it was nothing.  A little negotiation took place at that point, the plow operator hesitant to help, because it is frowned upon by the County.  When I saw him, he looked like someone who'd want to stick to the rules even when folks really needed help.  We practically had to sign a waiver to get him to help, but finally a plan took shape, and Doug's pick-up (blocking our car) was hooked up to the plow.  And when that plow backed up, Doug's rig was pulled so hard and high, for a moment, only one wheel was actually on ground.  Talk about power!

Then my silly-looking little Matrix, surrounded by all these huge vehicles, was hooked up and pulled out of the drift.  Unfortunately, the plow started pulling before E even had the keys in the ignition, or the out of 'park.'  Kind of like a weight lifter lifting a tiny ballerina with a single finger! It was really something.  E leaned out the window and called 'thank-you' to the driver, but he didn't even glance in our direction, intent on his job, which he'd probably been at since the wee hours of the morning! 

By the time we got into town, it had been two hours since we'd left my sister's house, and the Dump had, for all intents and purposes, already missed her flight.  So we stopped to reconnoiter, drink some coffee, and change our wet and frozen socks (which the Dump left hanging on a chair by the fireplace in the coffee shop! If you see them, they're hers.).

Ok, so the Dump didn't miss her flight, though it cost her a whole lot of money, a detour in our trip, and a connecting flight from Spokane to Seattle.  Ten hours later, E and I were home, the worst of the storm in the first 12 miles of our trip.  And I'm pretty sure the Dump is happily back in the rain in So Cal.  Just think, she doesn't have to return to the snowy Palouse for nine whole days!

You might think I have a spiritual lesson from all of this.  But to tell you the truth, I'm just tired.  Grateful that God takes ordinary people, even reluctant ones, and uses them as His instruments.  All day long, in all kinds of life and death and simply living circumstances, there are simple folks around us doing His work.  Helping us out of drifts, helping us get unstuck in whatever way we need.  Tonight as I sink into the sheets in my own soft bed, I will be thinking of the ones I met today.

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