The Online Magazine FOR and ABOUT Southside Virginia
"Born and Bred"
Sometimes it doesn't pay to leave Southside
My name is Michael Ray. I live in Halifax Co. Va.. Our family's e-mail address is **********@gcronline.com. I don't have any idea where those pictures were taken. I don't get out of Halifax County enough. My wife Patty and I have a bit of a superstitious belief that if we leave the county, a serious weather event takes place.
It all started with our New Year's Eve wedding in 1987. We went to Florida for a week and on the way home, a foot deep blizzard blanketed the east coast from Maine to South Carolina. Patty noticed the first snow flake landing, ever so innocently, on the rental car windshield. We had just crossed the Georgia, South Carolina border. I think exactly 30 seconds passed before an avalanche of snow fell from the skies. I slowed the car down to 4 miles an hour on I-95 just in time to watch a tractor-trailer ice skate in to a family car. They were probably going 5 miles an hour. Everyone was OK.
It was definitely time to get off the inter-state. I had never noticed how far it was between exit ramps until that evening. The little economy car was fast becoming a big snow ball. That's when the windshield wiper motor made a dieing moan and quit. I rolled down the side window, stuck my head and arm out, grabbed the windshield wiper and began to work the wiper manually. Patty leaned over to drive. Now, you have to remember that we had just left sunny Florida that afternoon. So what if I only had a tank top and shorts on, my new bride and I were in trouble and I was going to be the hero! Even if it meant frostbite. Like a gift from God, an exit appeared. There were about a dozen cars lined up in the ditch beside the ramp. The wife floored the gas pedal and we began to spin our way to the top, almost. At least we made it past the last car in the ditch. We grabbed an overnight bag and walked the last 500 feet to a motel that looked like a desert oasis to us. I saw the over flow of cars in the parking lot but didn't make the connection until we got in to the lobby.
The man behind the desk was nice and apologetic when he said " There is no room at the Inn" ( and there wasn't a manger out back). The good news was,"There is an emergency shelter a couple of miles down the road and a volunteer helper will be here in a few minutes, with his 4-wheel drive truck, to pick you up".
An hour and a half later, another nice and apologetic man showed up. His 4-wheel drive truck had a head light missing and part of a cedar tree sticking out of his front bumper. " Sorry I'm a little late." he said. " Some dang fool teenagers ran me off the road hotdogging their truck on the snow." As if on cue, a very tall truck went by with a couple of shirtless guys in the back. They were doing the rebel yell and video taping with a camera the size of a suitcase. Our driver informed us " This is the first snow here in about 20 years. Those young bucks probably ain't never seen the stuff. After they run me out the road, at least they pulled me out."
I was happy that he had made peace with "those young bucks" and wasn't going to go chasing after them with me and the wife strapped in beside him. We arrived safely at the emergency shelter, the local fire station. I almost fell over when I saw the town name over the big bay door. Turbeville...How 'bout that!!!
I wonder if they grow cantaloupes too. I never thought to ask at the time.Now I'm thinking that Patty and I should go back there for our 21st anniversary. No, No, No, strike that! It would be winter again and I don't want to risk it. The wife and I are too old now for another blizzard. OK. back to the story...
"Enjoy your stay." our driver said, as he pulled out to go rescue other poor souls from the inter-state. We were greeted at the fire station door by a nice and apologetic elderly lady holding two cups of hot choc-choa.
"I'm sorry ya'll got stranded in this weather." she said. "You two sweethearts must be half frozen. Put these around yourselves", as she handed us blankets from WW2, I think, " and drink this."
The choc-choa was very good. I think it may have been spiked. She was just telling us that it was her husband's favorite drink, and to me, that means it had to have a touch of spirits in it. Any way, the wife and I got a nice, warm and fuzzy feeling. We were very grateful. While I sipped on that special brew, I scanned our safe haven. There were 18 other people, (no crying babies!) 10 occupied cots and the rest were on various forms of padding on the fire department floor. It was about 11pm. at that point of our journey and I was getting tired. Patty had closed her eyes and looked as if she might fall asleep in the metal folding chair. " Ma'am, where can we sleep?" I asked.
Our shelter hostess got a slight worried look on her face and said " Oh, sweetheart, I'm sorry, I forgot to tell you. We ran out of cots about eight this evening."
Patty opened her eyes and dropped her jaw. " We can't just sit here all night on the last night of our honeymoon.Mike (that's me)when that truck driver gets back, we're going to go back to that motel and get them to let us sleep in the lobby!"
"Oh sweethearts!" the hostess was looking excited and happy now. " Well bless my soul. I'm going to fix you two honeymooners a special bed in the Fire Captain's office! Just as soon as my husband gets here with another air mattress." This good news calmed the new wife down and I suggested to our hostess that maybe we should get another couple of cups of that special choc-choa while we wait. Patty and I were feeling warm and fuzzy again in no time.
The air mattress arrived about ten minutes later. We watched the hostess' husband take an air hose off the wall and blow the mattress up. He had formed a wide grin on his face while his wife whispered in his ear. They looked like the sweet old couple that Patty and I will become in another thirty years. They cleared a spot in the office, put a blanket over the mattress, invited us in and the husband said " Congratulations! Enjoy your stay, I don't think it leaks."
I slept. I think the wife got some sleep at first, until all the air leaked out of the mattress. By then it was morning and the sun was shining brightly on the foot deep snow. Patty and I thanked the volunteers, ate a nice breakfast at a diner across the street and got a ride back to the inter-state hotel from the same man in his, slightly wrecked, 4-wheel drive pick up. There was duct tape holding the remains of the headlight and the cedar tree branch had been pulled out of the grill.
The road was terrible. It was nothing but packed snow, probably from those "young bucks" playing on the road all night. I started to wonder if we were going to get out of that town when our driver said " The only piece of snow removal equipment we got is working on the inter-state ramp right now. You two love birds can probably pull out in about an hour." I guess he had heard that we were still on our honeymoon. I love how word travels so fast in small towns.
The snow removal equipment, that our driver had referred to, looked like an old Army truck with a homemade snow blade welded to the front of it. The ramp was clean and the snow truck driver had begun pulling stranded cars out of the ditch. Our little econo rental was sitting about six feet from it's original spot and ready to go. Except for the bent up windshield wiper.
I was hoping that the remainder of our trip would be boring and uneventful as we drove North on I-95 at a blistering 20 MPH. Somewhere along the inter-state we stopped at a franchise rental lot and had the car fixed. We were patting ourselves on our backs for getting the rental insurance and very happy with the speed at which the mechanic replaced the wiper motor and blade. The next leg of our journey home would involve getting off the inter-state in North Carolina. I had my fingers crossed that the two lane road back to the Danville Airport rental place would be in good shape. Of course I was wrong. The road was only a lane and a half wide. Three foot snow banks lined both sides and not another car in site for the next couple of hours. Yes, the road got worse.
Patty had the passenger seat reclined and was just about asleep when I rounded a curve and met not one, but two tractor-trailer trucks coming up a hill. I took a deep breath and kind of thought that it might make the car a little skinny-er. Didn't work, but it did make Patty sit up just as the first tractor-trailer missed us by an inch. There was no time for me to ease over to the right, so I just yanked it! I remember a lot of crunching noise and some screaming. I'm not sure which one of us was doing it, but for this story, I'm going to say it was the wife. I do know that the second tractor-trailer also missed us because I had the close up view of it's rear axles go past my side window. If my window had been down, I could have kissed a tire! It was only luck that the car had decided to coast down the icy hill with two tires on the road and two on the snow bank. First time I ever thought of snow as being so crunchy and loud. I'm almost certain that we were only going 10 MPH. If we had been going any faster, I would have thought twice about yanking it back in to the road. Well, I didn't and I shouldn't have. The spinning started and I realized that the ice on the road wasn't going to let us stop until we reached the bottom of the hill. That sure was a long hill. I would compare it with the length of Spencer's Hill in Halifax.
Now's probably not a good time BUT...I want to tell you a little side story or two about Spencer's Hill. First, I remember one time when I was probably ten or eleven and my Dad and I were just going by the golf course when he put the car in neutral and coasted all the way to the rail road tracks! Second, when I was a teenager, there was enough snow one winter to sleigh ride from the golf course all the way to the Toot's Creek bridge! Great memories...now back to the story. I'm getting close to wrapping this puppy up.
After the third loop in our half mile spin out, I saw a little old lady standing there, at the edge of her yard, holding a bucket. When we spun by her I watched the bucket in her hand fall as she stood motionless, mouth wide open. She must have been salting her side walk. I should've asked her after the car finally bumped in to the snow bank and stopped. Patty and I got out of the car as the little old lady was yelling to us " I saw the whole thing! Are you alright? Do you want the police or a tow truck?" We assured her that we were OK. and that the car didn't look very stuck, it would probably take just a little push to get it off of the snow bank.
Patty got behind the wheel and gunned it. The tires spun but the car didn't move. I tried to push but, I just slipped and fell. The little old lady was yelling something about a shovel but I hadn't given up on the pushing idea yet. I leaned against the back of the car, put both feet against the snow bank and told Patty to give it a little gas so that I could get the car rocking. I started to push and she gunned it. I landed flat on my back but I decided it was a good thing because that meant that the car came out. Some how Patty got it stopped. We waved to our lone spectator, she waved back. I stood their waiting for Patty to get out of the driver's seat, she wasn't budging. The little old lady yelled down the hill " I think it's her turn to drive." She was right and for the last twenty years it's still her turn.
Finally, home, sweet home!!! almost. At least it was Danville. Our roads were in great shape. The sun had disappeared an hour earlier and we knew that there was no reason to stop at the rental office. We made it home to our love shack on the east side of South Boston without further incident. We got out of the car, walked in, climbed under the covers and slept for 24 hours.
Our superstitious beliefs, about travel outside of Halifax County and the weather, was formed after a few more early marriage road trips. Those stories will have to wait for another time. I'm ready to sum this one up now.
My wife and I have raised two kids here in Southside Virginia and we've loved every minute of it.We've been blessed with great friends and family, great year round weather and around every corner of Southside there is a great place to discover. Why would we want to go messing with the weather when we're having so much fun here? Our boundaries for the weather jinx has broadened somewhat and explaining the border lines can wait for now. But, I will tell you this, when it starts to looking like a drought in the area, we go south past Raleigh, N.C.
Michael Ray is a native of Halifax County and doesn't leave often.
Check back next month for his story about introducing outsiders to Southside.
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