The Miracle in the Canal
Things had become very difficult in our Eastern Washington community during the late 70’s. The economy was in trouble throughout the country and particularly in our part of the country. Hanford had laid off many of their workers, business everywhere had gone bankrupt and closed their doors. Many of us were working at whatever jobs we could find to keep a roof over our heads and food on the table.
I had taken a job working in a cherry orchard keeping records for the weekly payroll. That required that I be in the orchard as the sun was coming up every morning, until harvest was over. Weather wise it was a lovely time of the year, but still pretty chilly in the mornings, until the sun came up and warmed the air and surrounding landscape.
I left the house about 5:30 in the morning heading to the orchard about half an hour from our home. Almost all of the roads are long straight stretches with open field on either side until you come to the beginning of the foothills.
As I reached the beginning of the hills I made a left turn to follow the base of the hills. On the other side of the narrow two lane road runs a large, deep irrigation canal that supplies water to all the ranches and farms in this part of the Lower Yakima Valley. I was only a few more minutes from my destination as I drove around a sharp curve in the road with a steep bank on my right. As I made it half way through the curve, I was startled by a blast of water across the front of my car engulfing it in water. I could see absolutely nothing from the front windshield or the side windows. I applied my brakes and was turning the steering wheel in the direction I knew the road went, when all of sudden the water was gone and I was looking at a body of water right in front of my car. There is no shoulder or safety railing on this stretch of road. My car was headed into the canal. I remember thinking, I will have time to open a window before the car goes under the water. I heard somewhere that a car will float for just a bit before going under. It must have been one of those urban legend things because my car drove directly to the bottom of that canal nose first.
I don’t know if you have ever had the opportunity to inspect canal water. It is filled with silt/dirt and other debris and is a rather darkish color. The water was so murky when I came to a halt on the bottom of the canal (with the car facing upstream) I could barely see the interior of the car. Water immediately started bubbling up from the floorboards. My faithful Border Collie Sis was under the seat with her nose touching the back of my ankle. That was her way of getting as close to me as she could without getting in the way while I drove. I felt her thrashing around under the seat. I immediately jumped into the back of the car only to find that the back seat had come undone and lodged up against and under the front seat. I tried everything to move it and couldn’t. The water had risen half way up the back of the front seat when I noticed that Sis was no longer moving and trying to get out. I had even tried to pull/break the metal rod that went along the front underside of the seat that kept her from being able to come out that way. I knew I could no longer do anything for her.
I turned my attention to trying to open one of the two doors in my little Dodge Dart. I was just not strong enough to open them against that swift current. By then I was swimming around the car trying to open one of the two car door windows. They would not budge. Back to the old sayings, ‘Once the car fills with water and stabilizes pressure you will be able to roll a window down’. The car filled to the headliner of the roof and I made one more try for the windows. Neither one would budge. I was running out of oxygen and found one more tiny pocket of air up against the headliner. I had to almost float on my back to get my nose and mouth into that tiny pocket of air. When the pocket of air was gone, I just lay floating in the water-filled car thinking to myself, ‘Is this the way it’s going to end?’ A vivid picture of a Sheriff standing at our door telling Cliff and our four children that I had drowned in the canal, filled me with profound sadness. When this thought and video flash was gone I heard a voice telling me “No, this is not the way it is going to end, open the window”.
I knew what window the voice meant, but I argued that I could not get through that window if it did open. Meanwhile I am out of air again so I managed to use my fingers to tear through the headliner and find one more pocket of air. Then the voice filled the car and wrapped me in love and assurance, telling me one more time to open the window. I swam to the back passenger window which was not much more than a glorified wind wing window, except it rolled down instead of pushing outward. I reached for the handle and never got a chance to roll it down as the handle whirled around until the window was fully open. The voice then told me to put my head down. I knew exactly what it meant, arms out and head between the arms. Something grabbed my hands and whisked me through the window, up through the water and into the air. I was suspended by my hands as the voice told me to swim fast, then I was released to fall back into the water. Needless to say I did just as I was told, swam fast to the side of the canal and pushed against the water enough that I could reach up and get a hold on the top of the cement wall. I then pulled myself up far enough to dig out hand and foot holds and make my way up to the road. It was very steep and took awhile to get to safety.
I sat on the edge of the canal looking down into the dark water trying to see my car. The only indication of where it might be was an occasional bubble coming to the surface. My heart started to hurt, knowing that Sis was still down there. I shut the thought out of my mind and made myself get up and start walking the half mile to the orchard when a brand new Cadillac drove up. A lovely lady opened her door and immediately became upset and wanted me to get into her new car. I told her I didn’t want to do that as it would ruin her car. She then guided me into the car and took me to the orchard. I assured her I was okay.
Everyone was gone from the main house, we were starting on a different block of orchard that morning. I knew where the hidden house key was and lifted the pot by the back door so I could go in and call Cliff and ask him to bring me dry cloths. Gary (owner of the orchard) opened the back door and I thought he was having a health issue of some kind. He seemed about to pass out. He grabbed me and pulled me into the house and started crying and hugging on me. I pushed him away and said ‘What’s wrong with you?”.
“You went into the canal.” I agreed with him and told him to get a hold of himself that I was alive and well and was not a ghost. He worked hard at calming down while I called Cliff to have him bring me clean clothes. Cliff answered the phone, I asked him to bring me dry cloths, he said it wasn’t raining - why did I need dry clothes? I told him I decided to take a swim in the pool at the orchard. He paused for a moment trying to fit that picture in his mind, then started crying and saying ‘You went into the canal’. I asked if both he and Gary are psychic. He did not find that funny. Both Cliff and Gary wanted me to take the day off. I finally hung up from that conversation and was going to sit down and wait for Cliff to bring my cloths.
The front doorbell rang. It was the County Sheriff. The Orchardist who had his big jet sprinklers going full circle over the road saw me go into the canal and called the Sheriff, then sat down to finish his breakfast. He did see me finally come up on the road and drive off in the Cadillac. He also told the Sheriff where he thought I might be found. He was asked why he didn’t come out of his house and give assistance after the phone call. He said he assumed it was a migrant worker since it was an older car and didn’t want to help.
I stepped outside with the young patrolman to answer his questions. I told him how it happened. Then he had to ask me if anyone else was in the car. That is when I could no longer ignore that fact that Sis was still in the car. I broke down crying, trying to tell him how hard I worked to get her from under the seat. He stood there looking at me, then asked what she looked like. I told him she was all white with two black ears and black over her eyes.
That is when the second part of the miracle took place. The patrolman saw her sitting in the first area I dug out, right on the edge of the cement. Now how did she get out of the car? And how did she get up that distance from the water to the edge of the cement?
Meanwhile, Gary’s wife Karen showed up to see why I wasn’t with the tractor crew. Karen and Gary went with ropes and workers from the orchard to get Sis. They had to tie ropes around Karen to let her down to where Sis was. It took a bit, as Sis kept threatening to jump into the water. She seemed to know where the car was and we feel she thought I was still in it. She started to pass out, that is when Karen leaped on her with a jacket and was pulled up with Sis thrashing, trying to get away. She never offered to bite. She fought to get out of the truck and smashed her head into the window and went unconscious.
Karen thought she died as she just went limp as water was pouring out of Sis’s mouth while her head was hanging down to the floor from the seat. When they pulled up and opened the door Sis’s head fell almost to the ground. My heart broke as I cried out her name, my beloved Sis, my shadow, my protector when I was off working by myself in dairies, orchards, traveling, etc. She heard my voice and heartbreak, started to fight her way out of unconsciousness. She hit the ground, which caused more water to come from her lungs. She started staggering toward me when I hollered her name one more time. Then she was running while making a high pitched wailing sound. The patrolman had the unfortunate position of standing between me and Sis. She knocked him over into the dirt (uniform and all) and leaped through the air coming to rest on my chest with her front paws wrapped around my neck and her back legs wrapped around my waist, and she was still wailing. It made the hair stand up all over my body. She sounded like a person, not a dog. I’m not sure how long I held her with my head buried in her neck fur drenching her in tears and Sis wailing her strange song to me. I turned to apologize to the patrolman and found him standing to the side with tears streaming down his now dirty face. I looked around and everyone was crying. About this time Cliff drove up with my dry clothes. I put Sis in the van with Cliff so he could take her to the vet and have her checked out then on home. I had to command her to go with him, she didn’t want to leave me.
After Cliff left with Sis the patrolman said I had to go back to the scene of the accident and reenact the event. I thought I was fine with that until he did exactly what I was doing, going the speed limit. As we came into the curve, low and behold there was the wall of water again. I tried very hard to open my passenger door and bail out. Did you know you can’t do that in a police car? I didn’t. His car started heading for the canal, at the very last second he managed to get control of his car. He pulled over, turned his car off and sat for a very long time just looking ahead, not saying a word. Finally without looking at me, he told me I should sue the orchard owner (with the water cannon sprinklers) for everything he has. I was horrified at the sound of barely maintained rage in his demeanor and voice. That is when I found out it was illegal to let your water run or spray out onto the road. I told the officer that it was hard times for many and I felt the man had learned a valuable lesson from what had happened and that I would not sue. He then took me back to work.
I went into the house to change and go to work. When I turned and looked in the mirror I realized why I scared everyone so bad. My bottom front teeth had gone completely through my bottom lip, coming out just below the lip line. It was now all swollen and discolored. I had a black eye and bruised cheek and was covered in dirt and weeds. I washed up as best I could and put a large bandage under my lip. I put the clean/dry cloths on and went to work.
Everyone wanted to know how I got out of the car. When I told them what happened they all teased me and said I was just confused with all that was happening to me, everyone except Cliff.
Three days later they put a boat into the canal and had one of those really giant tow trucks come. They let everyone off work to watch the event of bringing my car out of the canal. They found the car using long poles, then the boat took the one end of the steel cable from the tow truck and went to the other side of the canal and let the cable drift under the front of the car. They passed their end over the front end of the car and secured it to the cable that was going up the bank to the tow truck. As the tow truck started taking in the cable they had to stop and re-secure the braces keeping the truck from pulling over. Once that was done, the car slowly started to appear, nose first, out of the water.
There was the windshield intact, then the two door windows could be seen, closed and intact, and finally the car wrenched around so we couldn’t see the passenger side windows and the small back window I told them I came through. There was a keening sound coming from the other side of the canal where all the migrant workers were watching from. When we looked across they had all fallen on their knees and were crossing themselves, crying and pointing to heaven. Then the car was up on the road. I stayed where I was, as the others beside me went around to the right side of the car to look. There was the tiny window, open just like I said it would be. About then Gary broke into sobs and came over and grabbed me, hugging me and crying. He said he was so sorry that I had to go through all that had happened. He added that he had been questioning his faith but now realized that there was indeed a God
Only God knows how many lives were touched that day. God still performs miracles, everyday.
Lynn and Sis Lynn and Cliff with Sis and Jeb
The Smith Family in 2010.
Another grandchild and two great grand-children are not pictured.
Indeed, God does have special plans for each of us and I am so glad His plan was to give Lynn and Sis their miracle in the canal.