By Larry Rettig (LarryR) on January 7, 2014

As a large portion of our nation continues to face dangerous winter weather, I'm reminded of a similar time here in Iowa in the early 1980s.

2014-01-07/LarryR/5263cbIt was December 23, nightfall, and a blizzard was beginning to roar outside with unexpected ferocity.   Our daughter, Robin, was due home from work—a 25 mile commute—and had not arrived at the expected time.  In those days there were no cell phones, so there was no way to communicate with her or she with us.  After what seemed an eternity, the phone rang.  To our great relief, it was Robin.  She had been stranded by the blizzard, but a kind stranger risked his own safety to come to her aid.  Her car had slid onto the shoulder and was now mired in deep snow.  She would have been marooned with no way to contact anyone, and her life could well have been in danger.  Her guardian angel dropped Robin off at my parents’ house, which was right on the route to his night shift at Amana Refrigeration.  Wilma and I heaved a gigantic sigh of relief.

The snow had ended by the next morning, so I contacted a wrecker service nearby to see what could be done about getting Robin’s car out of all that snow.  The owner asked me if I’d like to ride along.  Thinking that we would surely be safe in a wrecker, I took him up on his offer.  There was still lots of snow on the roadway.  Here and there the 40 mph winds were whipping up some pretty deep snowdrifts.  The wrecker handled them with ease.

About half a mile from where Robin’s car was located, we came upon a police blockade.  It was quite evident as to why the road was closed at this point.  Ahead was open country, and the winds were whipping up the snow to such a degree that visibility was close to zero.  Somehow the wrecker driver convinced the police officers, who were dressed in snow mobile suits just as he was, to let us through.

Once in the heart of the blowing snow, visibility was virtually zero.  We soon discovered that there was no way we could find Robin’s car.  The cars we did see were buried in so much snow that their shape was barely discernable.  Unfortunately, the same was true of the roadway.  In the process of turning around, the driver got stuck in extremely deep snow.

Now things were getting serious.  He tried rocking the wrecker back and forth to no avail.  Then he decided that the only way we’d ever get out is if he could to put chains on the rear tires.  I thought that that was impossible, given the conditions, but kept my thoughts to myself.  When he came back into the cab, I could see that his eyelids were frozen shut.  He had to thaw out before he could continue.  This scenario was repeated several times.  Each time he came back inside, he was a bit more incoherent.

Now I was seriously panicked.  As I sat there, trying to contain my terror, I heard a noise to my right.  Looking out my passenger window, I could see a human form trying to catch  my attention.  I opened the door and the swirling snow burst into the cab along with a middle-aged man.  “I just got out of the hospital!” he said in a high-pitched panicky voice.  “My car is stuck over there somewhere, and I thought for sure my time was up.  Thank God I found you!”  I slid over to the middle of the bench seat to let him in all the way.  “We’re stuck,” I struggled to say matter-of-factly.  At that point the driver came in to unthaw.  He was making no sense at all.  I told him to stay in the cab, that he was suffering from hypothermia, but he refused.  When our situation suddenly became clear to the stranger, his panic returned, and he screamed at the top of his lungs, “Oh my God!  We’re all going to die here!”

For an instant, I thought I saw some kind of light through the churning snow.  In my current state, I didn’t know whether to believe my eyes or not.  But there it was again!  “I’m leaving,” I announced, as I crawled over hospital guy’s lap.  He tried to restrain me.  “You’ll die for sure out there!”  I knew quite well the admonition that one was to stay in one’s vehicle in these conditions.  But I was now convinced that what I saw was a rescue vehicle.  I stumbled out of the wrecker as hospital guy slammed the door behind me.  I drew closer to the light.

A wave of relief washed over me as that vague glimmer of intermittent light morphed into a flashing red one.  Yes!!!  A rescue vehicle.  One of the passengers opened the door for me.  Inside were others who had been rescued.  I immediately told the driver about the two people I had left behind.  “We’re at capacity right now,” the driver said calmly.  I pleaded with him to pick them up.  “I’ll be back for them.  Right now I’m taking you back to the police blockade.”

Once there, I joined others who had been rescued, everyone milling around.  Their transportation home was buried in the whiteout like mine was.  Everybody had a story of rescue to tell.

Soon a car pulled up from the non-blockaded side of the highway.  I couldn’t believe my eyes.  It was the friend of a friend who knew who I was.  “Would you like a ride home, Larry?” he offered.  “Anyone else heading in the direction of South Amana?”  There were no other takers.  I told my story once more on the way home and thanked my second rescuer of the day profusely.

“Wilma,” I said as I burst through the front door, “you’re never going to believe this . . ."

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About Larry Rettig
"An enthusiastic gardener for over 50 years, my first plant was a potted Ponderosa Lemon tree ordered from a comic book ad at age 15. I still have it, and it’s still bearing lemons! My wife and I garden on 3/4 of an acre, both flowers and vegetables. Our garden, named Cottage-in-the-Meadow Gardens, is private and is listed with the Smithsonian Institution in its Archives of American Gardens. It is also on the National Register of Historic Places. We garden organically and no-till. Our vegetable garden contains a seed bank of vegetables brought to this country from Germany in the mid-1800s by my ancestors. My latest book, Gardening the Amana Way, is available at

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What a fright! nap Jan 30, 2014 10:44 PM 5

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