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Winters in the northern states can be brutal. One weekend, a massive snowstorm blew in from the Great Lakes, blanketing St. Paul and most of the surrounding area. That’s when Jack, the newest articling lawyer at Peters Wilson Atkinson got caught by the storm in a town 30 miles from St. Paul.
He’d been visiting his girlfriend’s family for the weekend. Louise was a newly appointed paralegal at the firm. Their almost-secret office romance made it awkward to phone and explain, that is, without telling bold-faced lies. This was the 1960s. Dating between co-workers was frowned upon. Office romances were forbidden. One or both people could be fired, and often were.
Jack’s boss was Geoff Atkinson, managing partner of Peters Wilson Atkinson, in St. Paul, MN. Some claimed he took pride in being called a son of a bitch behind his back. Young articling lawyers lived in fear of Geoff’s mercurial wrath, with good reason.
The blizzard had raged all night and by early morning showed no sign of easing. Radio reports said all roads in the area were closed. It was still dark when Jack phoned Geoff.
“I’m caught out of town, Geoff,” Jack said. “The highway’s closed. The storm’s reduced visibility to zero. I can’t make it in.”
“I need you here and right now!” Geoff shouted back at him over the phone. “Nobody’s in. We’ve got an appeal in court today, goddamn it, and you’re supposed to be my second chair on this case! You bloody well get your miserable ass in here and right now! You hear me? You damned well be here . . . or you’re going to regret it!”
He hung up.
Jack had too much at stake to risk more of Geoff’s wrath. He had to make the trip. He insisted on going alone. Louise was equally insistent about accompanying him. Her mother agreed with Jack. She didn’t want Louise to go with Jack. Louise won. There was no persuading her to stay behind. They admitted later, by then they’d decided to get married. It’s just that, well, her mother didn’t know yet.
The highway was a nightmare. In the headlights, blinding clouds of snow swirled wildly across the highway obscuring visibility almost totally. The right shoulder of the highway was their only guide. It disappeared repeatedly as they crept along. Finally, they were forced to stop.
Barely visible through the driving snow were amber flashing lights on a medium sized front-end loader. It appeared to be digging away at a huge snowdrift blocking the highway. The drift looked to be 15 to 20 feet high and covered a stretch of the two-lane highway for at least 100 feet.
There was no going forward.
A break in the billowing snow revealed that a narrow path had been partly cleared through the snowdrift. But the snow on the highway still was too deep for a car to navigate. They’d just have to wait. In a few seconds, they realized the snowplow’s amber lights were flashing but it wasn’t moving. It was stuck . . . high centered in the still uncleared deep snow on the highway.
Both Jack and Louise knew that somewhere behind them would be a few other venturesome commuters and delivery trucks trying to reach St. Paul from the adjacent bedroom communities. They knew also their car was not very visible. It was white, and the taillights were too low to be visible in the blowing snow. The car would be almost impossible to see until the very last minute. Jack knew they were sitting ducks for a rear-end collision. Louise was in the passenger seat, appearing much less concerned than Jack. She’d grown up in the area and had seen lots of St. Paul snowstorms.
Jack turned on the right signal lights and made his way back to the trunk. Few cars had four-way flashers then. In the trunk was a box containing a large amber two-way flasher Jack’s father had made for him just before leaving his parent’s prairie home for St. Paul. The large flashing light was ahead of its time, like many of his Dad’s inventions. A bracket held the flasher on the outside of the back window and was plugged into the cigarette lighter. It started flashing an amber light, almost three feet higher than the taillights and much brighter.
With the flasher in place, Jack reluctantly left Louise behind and headed over to talk with the driver of the stuck front-end loader. He wanted to know how long they’d be held up. And Jack was amused by the irony . . . a snowplow stuck in the snow it was clearing. But just as he was approaching the loader, a much larger snowplow pulled up behind it. The two drivers started hooking up chains between the vehicles. It was too late for an impromptu chat.
Jack turned back toward his car. All he could see through the swirling blizzard were the bright headlights of a large transport truck roaring toward his car . . . with Louise still in it, trying to keep warm. He couldn’t signal her to jump to safety. She wouldn’t be able to see him through the snow. And she wouldn’t be able to hear his frantic shouts above the storm . . . the car doors were closed . . . the heater was on full blast . . . the radio was tuned to weather reports.
The truck kept bearing down on the car.
Jack became frantic. He started running . . . and slipping and falling . . . getting up and falling again and again, in the deep wet snow. His imagination went wild. As an attorney, he’d been involved in more accident lawsuits, complete with photographs of gory scenes, than he cared to remember. In some, trucks had rear-ended cars. The passengers seldom escaped serious injury. Many died.
Jack wasn’t going to let this happen. Again, shouting at the top of his lungs and trying to run and stumble through the deep snow he heard the truck’s air brakes go on and off repeatedly, as the driver shifted down the gears. The truck skidded . . . and skidded . . . and then, finally came to a sliding halt right beside the car . . . and right in front of Jack. He’d fallen on the road in the path of the truck trying to reach Louise. He felt his body go limp with relief.
Jack scrambled to his feet. He climbed into the car. Shaking almost uncontrollably from the cold as much as from fear, he filled Louise in on what had just happened. A look came over her face as if to ask what the fuss was all about. She wasn’t perturbed. It would be like that for the rest of their lives together.
‘No Ordinary Snowstorm’ is Copyright 2013 By James Osborne All Rights Reserved