Drive home leads to winter whiteoutland

Published 9:55 am Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Column: Tales from Exit 22

It was the year I’d moved to the adults’ table at Christmas.

I was happy to leave the kids’ table, a chain of card tables with spindly legs that was the final resting place for cold creamed peas.

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I’d gotten my driver’s license. I was only 15 years old, but I looked at younger kids with new eyes. I’d see those morose individuals and think to myself, “I was once like you, lost and without hope. Then I got a driver’s license.”

I had driven to school. My driving was supposed to be restricted to farm business, so I stopped at the elevator before classes. It was snowing, but I wasn’t concerned. I was all-powerful Driver’s License Man. I could drive through anything.

After a couple hours of thought-provoking classes (they provoked thoughts of driving), an announcement came over the intercom that school would let out early — right before lunch. I was OK with that because the lunch that day was liver, lima beans and spinach soup with floating marshmallows.

School ended and I’d have been home early had I not stopped at a friend’s house in town to play Strat-O-Matic, a board game that was a statistically realistic simulation of baseball. The game was a great one that lasted 17 innings. By the time I’d left his house, my car was covered completely in snow. If it rains cats and dogs, what does it snow? Whatever that is, that’s what it had done.

I freed the car from its blanket of snow and hit the road. A full-scale blizzard accompanied me. Traffic was light to the point of being nonexistent. Snowplows had been pulled from the road, but I was determined to get home. The highway conditions were terrible. I turned off the highway onto the gravel road on which I lived. I motored my way toward our farm on Mule Lake. I quickly discovered that as miserable as the highway was, it offered a summer-like driving experience when compared to the gravel road. The wind howled as only the wind could, creating whiteout conditions.

Before I knew it, I’d plowed into an invisible snowbank the size of a barn. I had a shovel in the trunk, but after much shoveling, I was able to free my car just enough that it became stuck in an even larger drift of snow. I was on a road where the snow removal plan was called June. I shoveled until darkness fell with a thud. The temperature dropped and I noticed it. I didn’t have a hat because real men didn’t wear hats. I decided to seek shelter in a deserted house (thought by many to have been haunted) not far from my car. The snow had lessened, but the wind continued as if it were on a deadline.

I trudged through the deep snow. It took forever to get to the old house as I became stuck just as my car had.

The house had been empty for as long as I could remember. I knew no one who had ever called the house “home.” I did know that it had been a family’s dream that, for some reason, hadn’t worked out.

The front door was slightly ajar. It creaked as if in pain as I opened it and stepped indoors. It felt good to be out of the wind and I hoped that my ears would survive.

I stood in total darkness, catching my breath, until that breath was taken away by a loud rapping.

Rap, rap, rap!

The opened door slammed shut. The work of the wind — I hoped.

Every scary movie I’d ever seen reran in my brain.

The rapping continued. I was frightened, but needed to investigate. I had a penlight on a keychain in my pocket. In my family, flashlights were cases to hold dead batteries. The penlight offered a fading glow.

The rapping came from upstairs. Rap, rap, rap!

I climbed the steps cautiously. They creaked under my frozen footwear. I stepped on something that crunched loudly. My heart leaped to my mouth, but my penlight identified it as the skeletal remains of an animal.

Upstairs, I encountered endless blackness. The groaning house harmonized with the wind, interrupted only by the sinister rapping. Rap, rap, rap!

The rapping came from a closet. I found the courage to open another creaking door. My penlight showed a battered trunk inside.

The rapping was earsplitting and came from the trunk. I stilled my trembling long enough to lift the trunk lid. Rap, rap, rap!

I was shocked by what I saw.

(W)rapping paper!


Hartland resident Al Batt’s columns appear every Wednesday and Sunday.