The twenty-four pound turkey was cooked to perfection. It was my first Thanksgiving turkey, all golden and as pretty as the picture in the cookbook. The stuffing was fabulous. I couldn't wait for my mom and dad to see it. But first, it had to make it to northern Idaho before it graced my parent’s table. I had researched and talked to a chef I knew at a restaurant in town about how to take it out with about thirty minutes left to cook so when it was warmed up in the oven it wouldn't be overcooked. I even made a rich broth to inject so it wouldn't be dry and extra for the gravy to be made in when I got to moms.
My husband and I were stationed in northern California and I was still getting used to the oddness of warm temperatures and sunshine in November. It felt strange baking a turkey and pies in summer like weather—but I was excited about making the meal, the trip north, and seeing everyone’s faces when I put that turkey on the table. The pies were so pretty, too, with all the cut pastry autumn leaves set atop the pumpkin pies.
Everything was finished the night before we left. I had a special pan with a top for the turkey and containers for the pies so and we rigged up a place in trunk of my Cougar XR7 to put them so they’d be safe and cool for the journey. At 6:00 a.m. Wednesday morning I was carefully packing it all up for the drive north. We figured we be driving up the drive way to my parents’ house between 8-9:30 p.m. It was a bit overcast since we were expecting rain and such a difference from the bright sunshine the day before. We were excited and primed for a fun trip north.
It was the trip from hell.
Unbeknownst to us, the California drought had elected to end the day we left. We knew there would be rain but not how much. By the time we got to the Oregon border we heard that the rain could turn to slush and snow in the upper Siskiyous. Being young and adventurous—read not having the sense God gave a gnat—we pressed on. It was awful by late afternoon. Mountain passes were being inundated with record-breaking precipitation. We had no problems driving through the rain into the mountains; it was driving through the two feet plus of snow coming down the passes and facing ‘chains required’ that became the problem. Oh and getting out of them alive.
We were halfway through the passes and figured we’d beat the heavy snowfall. Pfft—that snow hit and hit hard. We were screwed either way. Not a lot of places to stop up there so the stupid gnats, I mean we, pressed on. Let me tell you, there are places up there that guardrails are non-existent. All those gorgeous visas you see off to the right where the ground drops away hundreds a feet? Not so pretty when you’re driving slippery roads downhill and limited visibility—not to mention brainless people driving too fast for the road conditions. Both Dan and I had lots of experience driving in snow and we were careful but you can’t control others.
Like the car almost a quarter of a mile ahead of us pulling a U-Haul. I had noticed it slipping and the U-Haul trailer weaving a bit and had backed off, letting distance grow between us—just in case. When they hit black ice and lost control I saw it. I don’t panic in dangerous situations. I’m very calm and focused but I’ll admit I felt fear as I watched it unfold.
Oh. My. God.
My heart jumped and I could feel the sharp tingles of adrenaline surging through my body as I lightly tapped my brakes. I knew the moment my car lost its grip with the road and spun towards the right side and the drop. I fought with all the strength and skill at my disposal to keep my car from going nose first over the drop and death. I turned the wheel hard to swing the back end around and away from the drop. Two 360-degree turns are fun at amusement parks but not so much on icy downhill grade. I wrestled with the wheel to bring the car back towards the snow packed median while sliding downhill and finally got the hood aimed in the right direction.
My husband had been sleeping in the passenger seat and my dog in the back and Dan woke up shouting and the dog came flying from the back window, where she had been laying, and hit the back of the passenger seat. I dimly heard her kayoing from floor. I didn't have time to soothe anyone. My entire focus was fighting to stay on the slick road. The car slid sideways toward the median and I corrected the trajectory so the left side of the hood was pointing in the correct direction. I didn't want to hit it the wrong way and slingshot the car back and across the road and off the precipice. I needed the snow to grab the car and hold it. It did but I still slid about twenty-five feet against the snow bank made by the snowplows before getting the nose and wheel right.
I did it. I dropped my head to the steering wheel, breathing in and out. It felt good to be able to do so. Thankfully no one had been behind us.
I was bruised. Dog was bruised but okay. Dan was doing his Italian sputter with colorful metaphors, so he was okay, too. But we were alive and the car in one piece so far as I could tell. I didn't give myself but a moment to take stock before getting out of the car to assess the damage and how soon I could get back on the road. We couldn't stay there.
I was stuck in the snow bank. Oh yippy kai yay. But, it was better than the alternative.
I waded through the snow on the left of the car—at least three feet of snow between the car and the concrete—and decided we had to dig left front tire and fender out the snow. While Dan cleared the road area in front of the car I cleared the back tires and then we went to work on the packed snow and ice holding the left front tire and fender. Your hearing is acute up in those passes and I heard the semi’s air breaks and jingle of heavy chains long before I saw it. He was in control and gently braking as he came down to where my bright red hazard lights were flashing in the dark.
Sam’s truck was the last vehicle allowed through before they closed the pass. Sam chose to come through the pass to help us.
He came to a stop about thirty feet behind us. One of the truckers going the opposite direction had warned him about us. The last he had seen was our car heading towards the drop. Another trucker a bit behind him said we did some fancy driving and drove into the median snow bank and were digging the car out. Sam helped Dan dig away all the snow from the front of the car—which wasn't even scratched, btw—so he could attach a thick tie-down strap to the front of the car and then pulled us out of the snow bank.
Sweet dear man.
Sam shared some hot sweet coffee with us. Said since I had been driving and would continue to drive I needed it. He was right. I didn't have time for the shakes that were sure to come. I knew I had to get us down that last grade and out of the mountains. My knuckles were white as I gripped the steering wheel and followed Sam down the last steep grade to fairly level ground. Officers and a paramedic were waiting for us to be sure we were okay. The others were still up where the U-Haul went off the road.We were fine which is more than I can say for the other car. They set a thirty-minute observation for us and it gave us time and get warm and rest a bit. Those donuts sure were good.
Sam came back from his truck with some hot chocolate/coffee mixture with some marshmallows on top and made it a point to tell me a woman needed chocolate in cases such as this. That chocolate about kicked my ass. He laughed and winked at my expression when I took the first sip and realized there was brandy—just a bit—in that mix. Forty-five minutes later we were back on the road and on our way to Portland where we would spend the night before pressing on to the family.
By the next day it was much easier to drive on northeast to my parent’s house. There was lots of snow but well plowed roads. My dad and brothers were waiting with the trucks to take us up the mountain. No way my car would have made it the three miles up the mountain to the house.
Thanksgiving was celebrated by candlelight on Friday evening that year. One pie was slightly crushed by something in the trunk that had crash-landed on it during the wild ride. My family still oooh and aahed over the turkey and fixings.
The silly gnats had a lot to be thankful for that year.
- Any memories you'd care to share?