Mother Nature is always a force to be dealt with on the Great Plains. Our weather extremes here are typical of areas far away from the oceans. Thanksgiving time brings back a memory of such a weather gyration.
The year would have been 1944. We were living in Sterling, Kansas, and came down to Goddard to visit Betty's family for Thanksgiving. As I recall, we ate left-over turkey for Sunday dinner and then I piled down in the spare bedroom for a short nap. I was soon awakened by my father-in-law with the words, "It is raining and starting to freeze. I think you should get started back." So we hurriedly gathered our belongings, including our year-old daughter, and made preparations to leave.
The 1939 Ford I was driving had no windshield defroster, only a small fan to blow the fog from the windshield. My father-in-law came up with an electric windshield heater that plugged into the cigarette lighter and was fastened to the windshield with suction cups. We fastened it in place and then I put on the tire chains and we were ready to go.
Another young couple had come down with us and were visiting relatives in Wichita. They had a year-old baby son with them. We picked them up about 2:30 in the afternoon and started up old Highway 96 toward Hutchinson. About 10 miles out, one of the tire chains gave way and began to pound the back fender. We kept driving, at about 20 miles per hour, until the second chain broke. At that point, I pulled off the highway and Troy and I crawled under the drippy fenders and removed the broken chains. Then we proceeded even more slowly. There were numerous cars off to either side of the road. The road was extremely slick and hazardous and getting worse. The rain was freezing all over the car and the only place we could see out was through the small area kept warm by the electric heater. I was driving with my nose about six inches from the windshield, just trying to stay on the road. We stopped once and tried to scrape the ice from the windshield, but the rain froze faster than we could clear it away. Darkness was soon upon us and we had trouble distinguishing road signs and check points. Part of the time we didn't know just where we were. We finally spotted the guardhouse at the old Naval Air Station south of Hutchinson, so we knew we were on the right track. All this time, our wives were in the back seat trying to cope with two babies that were hungry, wet and tired. Their crying added to the discomfort we were all experiencing. Sitting hunched over the steering wheel for several hours did not improve my well-being or my temper, but did aggravate an old back injury.
We crept slowly through Hutchinson. The downtown was deserted, not a single car in sight. The farther north we went, the worse the weather got. Now it was not only misting and freezing, but fog had moved in and visibility was down to less than fifty yards. We finally arrived in Sterling and found Troy and Helen's house. When we attempted to open the car doors we found we were virtually prisoners inside. Finally, Troy and I forced open the door on the passenger side and then we pried open the back doors to let Betty and Helen take the babies inside. Once inside, we dried and fed the little ones and soaked up some heat ourselves. After some warm drinks and rest, Betty and I drove to our house and tumbled into bed.
We had been on the road for a harrowing seven hours, traveling less than 100 miles. My back was killing me and we were all exhausted. However, a good night's sleep did wonders. As I look back on the episode today, I think we may have forgotten to thank the Lord for a safe journey. He must have been watching over us; otherwise we would probably have spent the night in the ditch along with dozens of other people.
Thanksgiving is a time to stop to remember our many blessings and give thanks to the Lord for them.
The Prairie Prophet says: "Failure is never final, neither is success."