Sunday, December 27, 2009


After weeks of careful planning and last minute adjustments, Christmas week was planned out perfectly. You can guess how this story is going to end up.

On Sunday, the 20th, Ricky's out-of-state sister arrived with her husband for supper and an overnight visit. Ricky's out-of-town brother and family showed up for the same period of time and his in-town sister and local family joined us for supper also. It was a nice Christmas time visit that allowed all the siblings to visit their declining mother, who is seeing her last holiday.

Then the plan was for us to go up to my family in Oklahoma before Christmas, our visits always worked around when my brother has custody of his daughter. We and the boys would go up on the morning of the 23rd, with the other three kids, all adults, driving up together that evening. After a good family visit, we would all leave the next afternoon in time to attend our Christmas Eve church service back in Texas. My married kids were then going to spend the night at our house and we would all wake up together Christmas morning. I couldn't believe how the stars had aligned to allow this to happen.

Our schedule went as planned until it was time to leave Oklahoma. As we threw our stuff in the cars, the Blizzard of '09 stormed in. Hoping it wouldn't be that bad, we took off, making it to the top of my parents' driveway. We sat there, stunned by the conditions. The windshield wipers could not keep up. With fifty mile per hour winds there was near zero visibility and concern that the smaller Hyundai could be blown off the slick roads. (We, of course, were in our bigger SUV.) After several cell phone conversations between the cars, we reluctantly concluded that road conditions were unsafe and we would spend an extra night in Oklahoma.

It was the right call. Oklahoma received a record 14 inch snowfall over the next few hours and I later read there were ten traffic deaths and hundreds of people stranded for hours and hours on Christmas Eve.

(Wiley and I went sledding in the blowing snow.)

My son-in-law's family began adjusting their scheduled plans and we all hunkered down to wait out the storm, hoping to get out later in the day, but of course the terrible weather conditions did not abate until late in the evening.

Christmas morning was bright and clear, the roads buried in ice and snow. Although all interstate highways in Oklahoma were officially closed, we determinedly left. Unfortunately, we had not left our cars at the top of the driveway, so it took an extra thirty minutes of pushing and pulling to get out again.

You can see the slope of the driveway, which becomes steeper further along.

We started south, I driving the Tahoe and Eddie driving their car. Brian decided to count the abandoned vehicles and set the "over/under" at 130 for how many we would see before getting to the Texas state line. Ricky and I laughed, so Brian adjusted it up to 230. We still took the "over."

The trip, all on I-35, was precarious, requiring detours around closed ramps and empty vehicles. There was about six inches of snow and ice pack on the road most of the drive. About three hours in, Eddie caught an edge and ended up off the road in the median.

Ricky and Brian ran back. Wiley and I drove ahead to the next exit so we could double back and come up behind. By the time we got there, a van of people had pulled over to help. Four big guys joined the effort and finally they all were able to push the car back onto the road without getting hit by oncoming traffic. (One of the girls in the van was videotaping the rescue. Maybe we're on you-tube somewhere. They said we were the 10th car they had helped.)

By the time we got to Texas we had counted 461 vehicles off the road. We saw semi's, trucks, vans and cars, all abandoned to the ice. We saw cars stacked together, in pieces, facing the wrong direction, smashed through fences, some even burned. Lindsay and Eddie objected to their inclusion in the count, but if we hadn't counted them, we would have counted double points for the snow plow in a ditch. There were 30 more cars abandoned in north Texas. Our drive normally takes a little over three hours. This time it took six.

But all's well that ends well. We adjourned to our respective homes for hot showers and clean clothes. The men, having been in tennis shoes and short socks during all the car pushing, appreciated getting dry and warm. We reconvened for supper of homemade tamales, crab cakes and steak. Santa came while the kids had dessert in the kitchen and we had a wonderful family evening, Eddie's family having graciously delayed their Christmas traveling until the next morning.

Next year my motto will be to make it simpler. When you have older kids, with plans of their own, you can not do it all in such a compressed time frame. We have had the same traditions for about twenty-five years. Now it's time to shake them up. It will be great. It already is.

For those of you reading this, I hope your holiday season has been and continues to be safe and merry.

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