After serving twenty-one years in the U.S. Air Force, my brother retired and moved back to Kentucky. Unlike me and my sister, he wanted to move out to the country and live on farmland. So, he bought a nice house and some land in this little place called Pea Ridge, Kentucky. And believe me, Pea Ridge, Kentucky is pretty much in the middle of nowhere; there is nothing there. In order to get to his house, you had to take a two lane highway for about twenty miles and then turn off on a country back road and drive another five miles. Although his place was beautiful, I never could figure out why anyone would want to live so far away from everything. I remember one year, he and his wife were throwing a “pre” Christmas party. Family members and a few friends were invited and, of course, I planned to attend.
At that time, my mother was living in a care facility because earlier that year she had had a very bad stroke. The stroke damaged the right side of her brain, leaving her unable to move the left side of her body. We placed her in a the best care facility we could find, so she could receive the physical therapy that she needed and we were hoping that one day she would be well enough to come home. I visited her two or three times a week and would have lunch or supper with her. Then I would read to her and sometimes I just tell her some of my stories. I always managed to make her laugh and her laughter and her smiles always made me laugh and smile too. Each time I would visit her, I would coach her through some of her exercises and she seemed to improve slightly every day, but I knew it would be a long time before she would be able to walk or to use her left arm and hand. Mom, enjoyed being outside so every chance I got, I made sure she went outside to enjoy the birds, the flowers and the trees. Occasionally, when the weather was nice, I would have the staff at the care facility help me get her into my car and we would go riding around. Anyway, my brother and his wife were having this “pre” Christmas party and I decided that I would take Mom to the party. I told Mom my plans and she was looking forward to going.
The day before the party, it snowed like crazy and it snowed all day. I was getting concerned that I wouldn’t be able to get to the party because I knew that the country roads to Pea Ridge weren’t traveled very much, and I knew they would be covered with snow and ice. When I got home from work that day, I called my brother and asked if they were still having the party. He said, “Yes.” Then I asked, “How are the roads down there? They’re pretty slick here. I’m not sure I can get down there.” He assured me the roads were drivable and he told me just to take it slow and easy and I wouldn’t have a problem. After I was finished talking to my brother, I hung up the phone and sat there for a few minutes thinking, “I can’t believe that their roads aren’t bad; ours are terrible. And we have tons of traffic here, and they might have ten cars go down their road in an entire week. I still wasn’t convinced that the roads were clear enough for my vehicle to get to their house and back home, so I called my sister. When she answered the phone, I said, “Hey Margo. Are you still planning on going to the party? Bro said the roads weren’t that bad down there, but I’m not sure that I believe that; our roads are terrible. How are the roads at your house? My sister said her roads were bad too, but she said she would put her jeep into four-wheel drive so she shouldn’t have a problem. After we finished talking, I sat at the kitchen table staring out the window studying the snow and wondering if I should go to the party or stay home.
About thirty minutes later, I had made my decision to stay at home. I called Mom and told her that I thought the roads were too bad, so I had decided that it would be best if we both stayed inside where it was safe and warm. Although she said she understood, she sounded very disappointed. I told Mom that I would try to see her the next day and then I hung up. She had been looking forward to this party for two weeks and now she couldn’t go because I wasn’t going. I felt so bad and I was really depressed when my friend, Lynn, showed up. As soon as Lynn saw me she knew something was wrong. She looked at me and asked, “CJ, are you alright? Is there something wrong?” Now, I don’t cry very often, but big tears came into my eyes and I shook my head, “yes” and Lynn said, “Tell me! What’s wrong?” Trying desperately not to cry, I put my hand on my forehead and rubbed my fingers through my hair and even though I was choked up, I managed to mumble, “I can’t take Mom to the party and she sounded so disappointed. I really want to take her, but I don’t think my car will make it down those country roads. I just barely made it home from work.” Lynn came over and gave me a hug and she said, “It’ll be alright.” I looked at her and said, “I don’t see how.” She said, “We’ll think of something.” Then I turned my face toward the window to try to hide my tears. Lynn sat down at the kitchen table with me and after about ten minutes of silence, I stood up and walked over to the counter and grabbed a cigarette and lit it. Lynn was looking out the window when she said, “I’ll take you and your mom to the party. What time do we need to leave?” I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. I looked at Lynn and asked, “Would you really do that for me?” Lynn said, “Yeah, I would. You’re my best friend, and your mom’s pretty special too, so think of it as an early Christmas present.” I was happy that Lynn had offered, but I also wanted to make sure that she knew what she was getting into so I asked, “Are you sure? Do you think your car will make it down that snowy, narrow, county road? There’ a lot of hills and curves too you know.” Lynn said, “My car is front wheel drive and it’s made it down country roads before in snow.” So, it was settled. Mom and I had a ride to the party. I called Mom back and told her the good news and told her that Lynn and I would pick her up the next morning.
We picked up Mom at eight o’clock that morning and we headed to Pea Ridge, Kentucky. It had quit snowing, but the flurries from the day before had accumulated into about six inches of snow. I must admit that it was smooth sailing until we reached the Todd County line. Once we reached the county line, the two lane highway that had been clear had suddenly become snow packed and very slick. Lynn’s speed went from 60 miles per hour down to 35 miles per hour. The only evidence of other vehicles was the narrow path of tire tracks that lay before us in the road. I could see that Lynn was nervous, and I was thinking, “CJ. What the hell did you get us into?” I kept wishing we had just stayed home, but we were over half way there and if the road didn’t get any worse, we would be fine. Lynn turned off on the narrow country road that led to my brother’s house and in just five miles we would be finally be there. Over the hills and around the curves we went. By the time we reached my brother’s house, I was a nervous wreck. And I know that Lynn was just as happy to get out of that car as I was.
The party was fun and we all had a good time. There was lots of food and good conversation, and most importantly, Mom got to share the day with us. Even though it was fun, the entire time we were there, I kept thinking about getting back in the car and I was dreading the ride home. It was about two thirty that afternoon and I could see both Mom and Lynn were getting tired, so I told everybody that we had better be going. Mom was in her wheelchair and while Lynn pulled the car up closer to the door, I wheeled Mom outside. My brother and Lynn put Mom into the passenger seat and I jumped into the back seat. As we drove off, we waved bye to everyone. Lynn was driving down the narrow road and I was telling her how much I appreciated her doing this for us. Then we came upon the steepest and most curvy part of the road and Lynn said, “This is the only spot that I am worried about.” I said, “Yeah, me too. We make it up this hill and the rest will be a piece of cake.” Lynn gave the car gas to pick up more speed and we crossed the bridge and headed up the hill. Just when I thought we were going to make it, the car started sliding sideways. Lynn was wrestling with the steering wheel trying to keep the car on the road, I and was sitting in the back seat feeling helpless. Apparently, the morning sun had melted the snow on the road and when the sun had shifted in the sky, the shade covered the road and a sheet of ice had formed. The ice was making it impossible for Lynn to steer, but we inched our way up the hill. We were moving forward, but at the same time, we were moving closer and closer to the left edge of the road. When we got about three feet from the edge, I said, “Lynn, you need to get back on your side of the road.” Lynn said, “I’m trying, but the road’s covered in ice and I can’t get back over.” About half way up the hill, the car came to a complete stop. I could feel the wheels spinning, but we weren’t moving. Lynn put the car into reverse so she could back down the hill a few feet, but the cars started sliding clockwise until the car was sitting side ways in the left lane. We didn’t stop sliding until the back wheel was off the road. Lynn put the car in park and we both got out and looked around. The tail end of the car was only inches from a four-foot drop off, and Lynn and I both knew that if we got stuck in that drop off, we would be there for a long time.
I got back into the car and grabbed my cell phone, but I couldn’t get a signal. Lynn got her phone out, but she couldn’t get a signal either. It was freezing cold outside and we were stuck in the middle of nowhere, on the wrong side of the road without a phone. We sat in the car for a few minutes to warm up and then Lynn and I got back out of the car. I looked up the hill and tried to see around the curve, but it was no use. I kept thinking, “If someone comes around that curve and starts down the hill, we are in big trouble.” Neither Lynn nor I knew what we were going to do, and we were both so afraid another car would come sliding down that hill and crash into us. Mom couldn’t walk and there was no way Lynn and I could get her out of the car and to safety. Lynn said she would keep trying to get a signal on her cell phone and I got back into the car and checked on Mom.
I sat in the car with Mom for a few minutes and she seemed to be fine. Actually, I don’t think she had a clue of how serious of a situation we had gotten ourselves into. Mom knew we were stuck, but she didn’t know how bad it was, and that was fine with me because honestly, I didn’t want her to be scared. Lynn and I took turns sitting in the car talking to Mom. We had been there for about thirty minutes and I knew that it was only a matter of time before another vehicle came around that curve and down the hill. I told Lynn, “You stay here with Mom and keep trying to get a signal on your phone, and I’m going to the top of the hill and around the curve to stop any traffic that might be coming this way. I had just made it to the top of the hill when I heard Lynn yell, “CJ! I got a signal.” I turned around and started back down the hill and Lynn met me halfway. Lynn said, “I got a signal and called your brother. The phone kept cutting out, so I don’t know how much he understood before I got cut off.” I told Lynn to stay with Mom and I was going back up the hill.
Did I say it was freezing cold that day? Well it was and being in such hurry and such a panic, I left my coat in the car. However, I did have my gloves on. I am not sure why I had gloves on and no coat, but I thought “Well, at least my hands are warm.” Have you ever noticed that when the ground is covered with snow, you can hear everything. Well, you can, so I heard every car going down the main highway and just when I would think the vehicle was headed in my direction, the sound would fade away. By the time I had finished walking, I had almost walked all the way to the main road. Even though I had not seen Lynn for thirty minutes or so, I knew my brother had found them because I could hear lots of voices coming from that direction. It wasn’t long after I began hearing voices that I heard a vehicle approaching me from behind. I turned around to look and in the distance I saw my brother’s truck and right behind it was Lynn’s car. My brother pulled up beside me and grinned and said, “The roads were a little bit worse than I thought.” I got in his truck and road to the main road with him. Once Lynn reached the main road, I got in the car with her and Mom. My brother turned around on the main road and headed back to his house and we headed back to the care facility.
I don’t remember talking at all on the way to the care facility. Actually, I believe Mom fell asleep. Once we got Mom back safely, Lynn and I headed home. I told Lynn that I was sorry and that I should have used good judgment and stayed at home. Lynn said, “It’s fine. We are all okay. So it’s no big deal.” I commented that I was scared to death that a car was going to plow into us. Lynn said she was scared too, but we both knew Mom wasn’t worried one bit. We talked about everything for a few minutes and then I asked Lynn, “So, what did you Mom do while I was at the top of the hill?” Lynn said, “We talked a little bit.” Lynn giggled and said, “Yes. It was quite interesting.” Then she giggled again. Wondering what was so funny, I asked, “What did you talk about. What’s so funny?” Lynn said, “Oh nothing really, just some of the comment your mom made.” Now I was really curious so I asked, “What comments? Tell me!” Lynn said, “Well, after you had gone up the hill and I had made the phone call, I got back into the car and your mom asked me why we were just sitting there.” Mom said, “Lynn, were not moving. Why aren’t we moving?” Lynn said, “Edna, we’re stuck. We got off on the side of the road and we can’t get out. But don’t worry your son is on his way to get us out and he should be here any minute.” Mom said, “Okay.” After they sat there for a couple of more minutes, Mom said, “CJ. You’re being so quiet; are you asleep?” Lynn said, “CJ went to the top of the hill.” Mom said, “Oh. Okay.” Then Mom said, “What’s at the top of the hill.” Lynn said, “Nothing, she just wants to make sure nobody comes down the hill.” Mom asked, “Why?” Lynn replied, “Because if someone comes down the hill, they might hit us because we’re on the wrong side of the road.” Mom said, “Well, move the car.” Lynn said, “I can’t move the car because we’re stuck.” Mom said, “Oh that’s right.” Then after a couple of more minutes, Mom said, “Lynn, do you have any salt?” Then I asked, “Why did she want salt?” Lynn said, “Well CJ, it makes perfect sense. We were stuck, so if we put salt on the road, the snow and ice would melt and we wouldn’t be stuck anymore.” I laughed and said, “What did you say?” Lynn said, “No, Edna, I don’t carry salt around with me.” Mom said, “Well, maybe you should.” Then a few minutes a later Mom asked, “Lynn, do you have any peppermint candy?” Lynn said, “No, Edna, I don’t have any peppermint candy.” Then a few minutes later Mom asked, “Lynn, do you have any chewing gum?” Lynn said, “No, Edna, I don’t any chewing gum.” Lynn said she figured Mom gave up asking her for things when Lynn told her, “No, Edna, I don’t have any fingernail clippers.” By this time I realized that Mom had no idea how close we had come to a total disaster, and some how that made me feel better. The more Lynn and I talked about our adventure in Pea Ridge, the more we found humor in it and the more we laughed about it.
This will be the second year that I won’t be spending the Christmas holiday with my mom. But every once in a while, I remember that December day when we were stuck in the snow in the middle of nowhere. Needless to say, it bitter-sweet memory for me, but it always makes me laugh. I have visited my brother several times since then, but I have never, ever been back when there’s snow on the road. I figure the next time I might not be so lucky. And believe me, there’s nothing worse than being stuck in Pea Ridge, Kentucky.