So here is the scoop…
We left Springfield, IL at 2:00 pm with some thunder, rain and 50 degree weather. We enjoyed lunch with Floyd Pierce and other believers after the meeting. As we drove north we saw the temperature drop and pretty soon cars were in the ditch off the interstate on either side. Traffic was still moving but it seemed like some reasonable caution was all that was needed. As the snow really started falling and thickening we watched most of the traffic divert off the interstate at a rest stop. We continued on thinking that may be a good thing but pretty soon the wind and snow was something to worry about because of the visibility. At the next exit we decided to at least go for a full tank of gas and consider carefully what to do. This turned us sideways to the wind and what little visibility we had went to a strict white out in the cross wind. There were two miles from the interstate to the town of Andover, but we only made it one mile before we felt ourselves slide over the edge and the car started to spin its tires.
After calling emergency and giving them our situation we watched cars slide off in front and behind us. The snow kept coming and drifts started to build up. Different people came by to knock on our window and see if we were hurt. Eventually when the fire department suggested it, the ladies went to the firehouse to spend the night. Isaac and I were hoping for a tow truck or a pull out of the ditch but after an hour the firemen let us know there was a ban on towing and we chose to shut down the vehicle and tuck into the fire house as well.
The fireman pointed us to a car waiting on the icy road and told us to get in — as the wind howled around us and we tried to keep our spare change of clothes dry. Since we had gone out into the snow a few times our clothes were soaked thru and we were quite cold and unprepared for this weather. As we pushed into the little car the first thing the driver said to us was “Hi, I just got out of prison yesterday”. To which I responded, “can you drive a car?” So we got off to a great start and this time realizing the risk of loosing the road we opened the passenger side and measured the distance to the plow furrow.
Once we got to the firehouse and checked on Janel we realized we were going to be the first of many visitors that night. Janel and Fionna had met and welcomed some of them, there was the style consultant from LA who had missed her flight out of Chicago. Another young man who went into the ditch near her and helped her deal with the crisis. A nice Indian family with their daughter and big labrador dog under the table also took on the hosting role and started setting out chairs, tables and 10 cots that were available. As I went down the line a fellow with a police type uniform had his 3 year old son in his arms and worked as a corrections officer at the nearby prison where our con friend had just left. This officer lamented picking up his son from the ex-wife’s place and stoping for pizza, they were only 5 or 10 minutes from home but could not continue. The next person was a nurse who had come off shift and was also divorced, had two kids with different fathers but these kids were with other friends or family. Janel got talking with her about homeschool curriculum as she was attempting that with her older daughter. As we moved on I noticed the officer slide down the table and start a conversation with the nurse and then observed the progress thru the night. When the officer’s son finally got tired of climbing everything and playing he settled down on both their laps. Soon the nurse was wearing the officers overcoat, then they were helping each other out with food and taking turns on the cots in the back… needless to say they had a wonderful date night. When morning came around the nurse’s father came by to pick her up with a 4×4 but she was hesitant to leave. The officer was also offering to arrange for her car to be towed, meanwhile the father was stomping his feet trying to get back on the road. It would be an interesting story to follow.
The firemen were great. The chief was an older but quite active gentleman looking after everyones needs, accommodating new people and answering phones plus directing his crew. To add to his evening a fire alarm was called in early in the evening as the Lutheran parsonage house had a small emergency with a fireplace leaking some flames down into the basement. All these guys were volunteers and very willing to spend time to talk when they had it. One of these firemen we decided had a “knight in shining armor” complex. He would come in to the firehouse in his snowsuit stomping his boots and informing us on his latest excursion. In one case he was rescuing folks and directing them back to firehouse, bringing news fo people staying in their vehicles and more. He always made a big show of his entries and exits. One couple of locals chose to disregard the mandate to stay in the firehouse and left in their car, only to get stuck again. So our knight in shining armor went out to find them and instead of rescuing them he chewed them out and told them to find a friendly house instead of bothering the firemen again. The whole conversation was repeated with colorful language included.
The ethnic situation was worth observing thru the night. In one case a Mexican family came in with 3 chihuahuas and a large husky. I went to visit with them and soon started talking to him in Spanish. Soon he switched back to his heavily accented English and would refuse to answer me in Spanish. Another family entered and these were American blacks. The father had a tie down bandana and saggy pants. The wife and maybe a sister with a couple of small children all walked in but lost their swagger as they filled past the growing crowd and went to a back table. I went to say hi but got little response so I started talking to their 5 year old son who was a bit more open. Finally as I left them alone, the mother thanked me for visiting with their son.
Soon after we heard news that a van with a choir group was stranded and would be joining the crew. First 4 brilliantly black children walked in looking understandably lost and cold. After 15 minutes the rest of the crew, all 15 of them finally arrived all of them shiny black from DR Congo and talking their own languages. The older ones could not communicate very well but our chief promptly got hot wet towels wrapped around the women feet, they had only worn sandals. The young people in the group came right over and started talking music and telling us that white people don’t know how to really do praise music. At some point I pulled out a harmonica and that created some conversation for a while.
There were more colorful individuals in the group an at the end we must have had more than 40 people sitting mostly at tables with a pillow to lay a head on and blankets. The 10 cots were used at any given time but no one slept a full night. The dryer was being used almost constantly by firemen or by the guests. The coffee maker was used nonstop all night and the local grocery (only grocery in town) delivered chips, soft drinks, water, pizzas and donuts. After the grocery store closed the attendant joined our group in the firehouse as she could not leave either. There were only two bathrooms, one for ladies and one for men, so these also were maxed out and you had to wait your turn, especially considering the coffee and soft drink consumption. It was overall an amazing opportunity to experience America and all it’s diversity.
So next morning most people began to solve their individual situations by getting rides or driving home if their cars were not ditched. A tow truck was out getting vehicles back on the road after the plows were done. The firemen worked out a way for the Congo choir and our family to be moved to a Lutheran Church basement. The Firemen would not let us go dig ourselves out for liability reasons and the tow truck could not get near our vehicles because we had been buried by drifts and the plows. So we got caught in a holding pattern. The Lutheran hosts kept feeding us and visiting with us. Finally we started questioning what could be done to get back on the road and our host started making calls. It turns out that our host was the mayor of town (population 600) and had some pull. A friend took a front loading tractor and dug the bulk of the snow from around our truck and we finally got gloves bought and went out to dig out close to the car so we could get in the door and start up. It was a long hard dig but we got back on the road by 2:00 pm the following day.