On Saturday, December 11, we're at the Maplewood Mall trying to sell books when the word comes down that the Mall of America closed because of the snowstorm. A few minutes later at 2:40 PM, we hear that Maplewood Mall will close at 3:00 PM.
Nanc and I pack up faster than Minnesotans winning a free trip to Florida, but when we get to the parking lot we have to deal with the challenge of carrying our heavy tables and cartons of books through thigh-high drifts and then loading everything into our Explorer. Our two-wheeler becomes a burden to carry instead of something to carry our burden. More than once I utter, "I'm too old for this ------."
Escaping the parking lot is fraught with excitement. Four-wheel drive vehicles scramble in every direction to find an open exit. I follow a guy with a big white pickup. When we finally turn onto I-694, all we can do is line up behind others. I question the sanity of getting on the freeway, but I cannot readily think of an alternative.
I-694 has only one lane open. Traffic stops every few yards and then crawls forward for the next 10 miles or so until dozens of semis turn east onto I-94. However, our lane disappears. No bare pavement is visible. Now our lane consists only of two deep ruts in the snow for the next 50 miles.
It's hard to tell where the track is. "Move left!" Nancy hollers, as she sees high snow on the right. I react but also try not to over react. Snow is high on the left too.
We see cars stopped on either side of the road with snow piled high around them. "I'm hoping these people escaped or have enough gas to keep warm," I say, feeling guilty that I can't stop to help without stopping the hoards of cars following me.
"I hope they have cell phones," Nancy replies. "See, there is a guy in a wrecker helping some people."
As we drive by, we see kids being loaded into the cab of the wrecker. "I hope he can get out of that drift," I add.
The driving is tense enough, but every once in a while a wild driver will decide to challenge the idea that just following the guy ahead of you is a good plan. The driver tries to pass on the left, sliding dangerously close to cars in my lane, over-compensating and being drawn into the ditch by the deep snow. Steering is not a precise function of any vehicle when the snow is deep. I catch myself smiling at the fact that he got what he deserved, but I remind myself quickly that it could be me next, and I really don't wish that fate on anyone.
A semi passes me on the left, begins to jack knife, straightens his rig out, and barrels down his new left lane, causing a swirl of snow that blinds me and others for too long to remain safe. When the semi-created snow storm subsides, I am relieved to still be on track.
Many close episodes ensue, but nearly two hours from when we left the mall, we attempt to turn in our driveway. We make it far enough to be off the road before we stop, unable to continue up the 75- yard hill to the garage.
"Grab the laptop, Nancy, and I'll carry the big bag with the money and credit card machine," I say. When we get to the garage, I'll start the tractor and snow blower and we'll get our Explorer to the garage tonight."
We fall many times as we hike up hill through hip-high drifts. As we reach the garage, Nancy presses the button on the opener, and exhausted, we roll off the snowbank and into the garage.
It's too late to make a long story short, but let me cut to the happy ending---
I start the B3030 Kubota, which has a snowblower on the back and a loader on the front. I make a few passes to the truck as Nancy shovels away the snow from under the Explorer, but visibility is bad and my driveway is slippery, causing me to slide off and get the Kubota stuck. It only takes one back wheel and the opposite front wheel to spin.
I know we can shovel to free the Kubota, but exhaustion is catching up to us. Nanc and I pause to take a breath and we see a figure with a snow shovel headed toward us. It's our neighbor Ed coming to help.
We thank him profusely as he gets right to work. Then we see another figure with a snow shovel approach. It's our neighbor Jim. More thanks from us as he goes to work.
Then I notice snow flying from the driveway next door. It's our neighbor Mark clearing a path to bring his snow blower to help out. Three wise men, indeed.
In another half an hour, we drive the Explorer up the hill and into the garage.
In the books I write about a farm family in 1950, I emphasize the importance of helping your neighbor.
In the shows I do for elementary school kids, I proclaim, "Always help out your neighbor. It's the right thing to do. And your neighbor will help you some day."
What can I say? My neighbors were there when I needed them. Thanks, guys.
Blowing snow with the Kubota on Sunday morning, December 12, 2010.