Tom and I traveled to Boone last week just in time to get caught in the first snow of the winter. The thought of being in a vehicle on snowy roads filled me with anxiety just as it had for as long as I could remember. But as I drove back to Tennessee over snow covered Highway 321 on Saturday, I began to relax a little. I had this. I had this because Mom and Dad, but mostly Mom, taught me early on how to drive on snow covered roads. Her method might fly in the face of current thought on the subject, but as far as I’m concerned, I’ll take the tried and true.
Mom woke me up earlier than usual on Saturday morning. Both of us had to go to work, Mom to Sears and I to Hardees. Sleep had erased my memory of yesterday evening’s snow, but as I stretched and crawled out of bed, my eyes locked on the bedroom window which provided the perfect frame for the undisturbed snowy scene in our front yard. No sooner had I seen it than my thoughts riveted to another scene, this one playing out in my mind. I would be riding to work this morning with a woman who got right up in Old Man Winter’s face and dared him to stop her. A slight shiver went through my body; I knew I was in for an adventure!
Clearly chomping at the bit to get on the road, Mom rushed me through our morning routine and out the door we went. She backed out of the garage and stopped just long enough for me to close the garage door and get in the car. I knew what was coming next. She hit the gas, and the yellow Ford Pinto wagon with the wood grain panels on the sides cut through the snow, As she backed, she turned the steering wheel hard to the left and started backing into the turning place. We slid slightly sideways and stopped. She shoved the stick shift into first gear, and down the driveway we crept. .
Mom played the manual gears like a pianist plays the piano keys. Her philosophy was to gear it down into 1st gear at the top of every hill and let the gears hold the car back as she rolled down the hill without ever having to touch the brakes. As we neared the bottom of each hill, she would work the gears again until she was in high gear. She cruised along the level stretches of road, taking her foot off the gas pedal in time to coast into the many curves along the way.
As we neared each hill, she would gun that little station wagon and shoot straight up the hill as fast as she could reasonably go. Her goal was to have enough inertia to get her to the top even if she started spinning somewhere along the way. Mom could somehow calculate exactly how fast she needed to be going in relation to the slickness of the road and the length of the hill, and she could execute that calculation flawlessly each time.
This was child’s play for Mom, and her philosophy worked extraordinarily well …most of the time. That morning would prove to be one of those times. The first half of our trip went quite well for there had been little other traffic on the road save for the snow plow, but as we got nearer to to town, traffic picked up, and our good fortune changed. We were coming out of a chain of curves that fed the road into a bridge. After the bridge the road straightened, so as we came out of the last curve, Mom began to accelerate. She must have been just a little too eager because the next thing I knew we slid sharply to the right and right off the road towards the bridge. I grabbed the door and the dashboard and braced myself to hit the bridge or to slide down the bank into the icy water. Just as I started to close my eyes, we abruptly stopped as the tires gained traction on the gravel around the bridge. Then, before I could get a grasp on what was happening, Mom threw the gear shift into reverse, backed up, shoved it into 1st and hit across the bridge. Since my voice had abandoned my throat somewhere back on that icy spot, I just sat there in the seat next to her, staring straight ahead.
In a few minutes time, the last and greatest challenge of the trip lay in front of us. Long and steep, Radio Hill stood between us and the town of West Jefferson. I felt my chest expanding as I took a deep breath. I could tell Mom was doing the same. Nervous tension almost blew the windows out of the little Pinto wagon as Mom’s right foot steadily depressed the gas pedal. By the time we started up the hill, we were going as fast as anyone would dare on those slick roads.
As we climbed, I couldn’t help noticing that several cars and trucks had already found the ditch, but we kept sailing along, maintaining our speed. And then suddenly, the one thing you don’t want to see loomed in front of us, and we both knew we were in trouble. Just ahead a car fishtailed from one side of the road to the other, the driver desperately trying to maintain control. He may as well have wished to drive to the moon, for control would not be his friend that day. As the car spun around, it finally came to a stop, setting across the middle of the road. Mom had no choice but to coast to a stop before getting to the car.
My stomach took a turn, and I thought I might be sick because I could see the wheels turning in her head. Sure enough, Mom’s hand went for the gear shift and popped it in reverse, but this time she continued to hold down the clutch, effectively keeping the car out of gear. My cheeks burned like fire, but I shivered as if the temperature were below 0 in the car. I was as nervous as a cat under a rocking chair! Slowly, she let the pressure off the brake until we started to move backwards ever so slightly. Quickly, her right foot applied more pressure to the brake, and we stopped.
Mom repeated this process over and over for what seemed like an eternity as we slowly made our way back down Radio Hill, and finally, miracle of miracles, we reached the bottom. Old Man Winter had given Mom a ride for her money, so to speak, and she was tired from the long drive and now from edging down Radio Hill backwards. I was tired, too. I was tired from fearing for my life!
We sat there for just a moment before Mom looked at me and said, “If people would just stay out of my way, I’d be all right! I don’t think I’ll try Radio Hill again this morning. We’ll just go the long way around.” And we did just that without further incident, arriving safely at our destination just a few minutes late. Mom went through the door into Sears, and I walked a bit unsteadily across the street to Hardees.
That evening, we climbed into the trusty yellow Ford Pinto wagon with the wood grain panels on the side and headed home. After a full day’s sun and temperatures above freezing, there was little evidence left of the slick roads we had traveled just that morning. Safe and sound at home, I would go to bed that night thankful for God’s protection and Mom’s driving.