Sunday, December 16, 2007

Don't Be Scared Of A Little Snow

It snowed last night.

And this morning. And now this afternoon. In total we got nearly a foot. It is supposed to snow more tonight.

The radio says the roads are very bad. The expressway is like an ice rink. The authorities are asking us not to drive.

I was outside shoveling the driveway when Darlene came out with the phone.

My co-worker Julia called to tell me that she and the other Staff Association members think we should cancel the Children’s Christmas party.

I looked out the window. A pickup truck went sliding sideways by our house. He straightened himself out and slid the other way.

I agree”, I replied. After hanging up I called our major AM radio station. Everyone in Windsor knows this is the station to listen to for local news and snow cancellations. While I tried to get through the busy line – Darlene submitted the cancellation notice request through their news tips website.

Shortly afterwards I heard our cancellation announcement crackle over the radio.

I went back out to finish shoveling.

And I started thinking about my Uncle Fred.

I had lived with Uncle Fred’s family when I moved back to Canada.

I was twenty-three and the year was 1985. I was living in an apartment with my brother Paul in Baton Rouge. I had decided that summer that I was going to move back to Canada.

I gave my notice at work. I was a night manager at a grocery store – and the store was closing down. It seemed to be a better idea to move to Canada and go back to school, rather than live a Janice Joplin song and be “busted flat in Baton Rouge”. So as Christmas approached, I packed up what I owned and stuffed it into my Mazda 626.

Paul and I spent Christmas at my Mom and Dads that year. The understanding was that I would go back to Canada – get this degree – and move back down south – this time to Pensacola – and start a real career.

I remember that Christmas morning because Paul and I woke up and played our traditional round of golf before we opened presents. We started on the 13th tee outside their back door, and played around to number twelve – where we came in for breakfast and opened our presents.

Two mornings later – my car still loaded with all my possessions and clubs squeezed back into my inventory – I kissed my Mom and Dad good bye and started my Drive up I-65 through Alabama – then I-64 across Kentucky and Tennessee, over to I-75 that would take me up into Michigan.

The first day was a breeze. I had the windows down, and the tapes in my cassette player blaring loud. I made it to Dayton, Ohio. It was raining and dark – so I decided to pull over for the night.

The next morning I stepped out of my motel room, and nearly broke my neck on the ice. The rain had frozen. It was cold.

I had crossed the Mason-Dixon line.

I filled my car up with gas and started out onto I-75. About 45 minutes up the road, a gust of wind grabbed my car, and slid me across 4 lanes of expressway, into a deep ditch – just missing a cement drain pipe.

I spent the rest of the morning hiking to a gas station to get a guy with a tow truck to haul me out of the ditch and put me back on the road. As he did – he tried to sell me some winter tires. I declined.

I did not cross the border into Canada in Detroit. I did not enter into Canada in Windsor. Instead I rode I-94 north of Detroit to a little town called Port Huron. I arrived at the empty border crossing expecting to be searched and have my car taken apart.

I crossed the Bridge and reached the Canadian customs booth in Sarnia.

Citizenship?” asked the customs officer.

I held up my green card. A plastic card that had a picture of me at the age of three. “Canadian” I answered.

How long are you staying?” he asked.

Until I’m done school” I replied and briefly explained my educational plans and agenda.

He smiled and replied “Welcome home”.

That has always stuck with me.

I looked at the road ahead. I saw none. It was all white. I looked back at the officer “One thing please, where is the road?

See those little white posts?” he asked in reply, “the road is about 3 meters to the left of those:,

Oh”, I replied. “Welcome to Canada, Fred” I thought to myself.

It got easier as I drove on. In my little Mazda 626 with everything I owned in the car. I could see other tire tracks, and I could see the edge of the road. But I drove very slowly.

It was really snowing and the roads were being closed behind me. My perception of what “bad” meant kept expanding as the day progressed – and now I felt I understood what “bad” meant.

Every twenty yards or so, a one or two foot high snow drift would appear. And now I felt comfortable to just blast through them. I did this for about an hour. And now I was getting close. I had made my way to Perth County Road 11. I was simply trying to find the concession Uncle Fred’s farm was on.

I thought I saw it, and pulled into the snow drift that fronted the concession gravel road – Boosh – I smashed through and drove up the gravel road – only to really see the farm on the next concession up – looking across the fields. I turned around, and blasted through the drift again. Back on the road, I traveled up to the next concession.

Boosh – I blasted through the drift at the front of the concession.

But this was different. I didn’t come through the other side. Instead I drove to the top of it, and my car sunk down into the drift – which was not a drift. The snow was easily five feet deep all the way down the concession.

I sat there in my little Mazda 626 – with Louisiana license plates on the front and back. I sat there and wondered how I would get down the concession to the farmhouse I could see all lit up about half a mile down the road.

I almost made it.

I flashed my headlights – and turned my car off. I was just about to get out of the car and literally swim the snow to the farmhouse. That’s when I saw the two snowmobiles – and they were coming straight at me.

How’s goin eh?” said the first – a kid I would later know to be Jim.

I’m stuck” I smiled.

Yer stuck alright. Where yer goin?” asked the toque (tuke) and parka clad Jim.

To the Brill’s farm” I replied, “and I almost made it”.

I’ll go tell Fred yer here, wait here” said Jim. “Who do I say’s coming?

Fred Brill”, I said. “He looked at me. My Uncle Fred and I do have the same name.

Okay den”, and hopped back on his snowmobile and away he sped.

Shortly after, Fred appeared with the John Deere tractor with the snow blower attachment on front. He came blowing right at me. He climbed out of the cab and waded over to me.

He was smiling as happy as could be to see something funny like me and my southern car stuck in the snow.

Jimmy says Fred Brill’s comin to visit me” he laughed – those big old teeth grinning like he couldn’t be happier.

It’s snowing” I said.

Tis, tis so” said Fred. “Stay put lets get you in the barn”.

Uncle Fred hooked me up to the tractor – lifted the front of the car right up with the rear of the tractor while the front of the tractor was still pretending to be a snow blower.

The girls, my cousins Sarah, Ellyn and Jenny, all took pictures of their southern cousin – the bumpkin – being towed down the farm laneway. I have to see those pictures every Christmas.

I almost made it. 1,200 miles, and I got stuck in the last half mile.

But Uncle Fred never let a little snow scare him off.

I miss Uncle Fred.

But today – during our foot of snow blizzard – after cancelling our Children’s Christmas party - I can hear his voice loud and clear.

It’s just a little snow, Freddy. Don’t be scared of a little snow.


ellyn said...

Hi Fred! I still remember Jim coming to our back door to tell us "Some idiot just buried his car at the end of the road - he says his name is Fred Brill!" It was great to see your remembrance of the incident still coincides with mine - Welcome back eh!

Sarah said...

Wow! I was expecting to get a good laugh, but it made me a bit teary!

I just told that story a few days ago. One of the ringette girls dad was telling me about blowing out their farm laneway. Remember dad in that stupid hat with the earflaps, Fred? Kinda Elmer Fuddish but blue with a peak sticking out and woolly lined earflaps that were usually folded up.

And I still clearly picture you all stressed out, "What the hell have I just done coming back to Canada?", cigarette-wielding Fred behind the wheel of the being-towed Mazda - still hanging on to the steering wheel for all he is worth!

Look forward to seeing you all soon, eh?
(You maybe should have explained the Dutch accent on Jim so your readers don't think your cousins are rednecks)


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