Some events stick in your memory like a 2×4 impaled through telephone pole in a tornado. Every now and then something happens, and it all comes rushing back on you.
The other day I was on I-85 headed over to Auburn to deliver a few trees to a customer. The traffic came to a dead stop in the middle of rural Lee County. That can only mean one thing. A wreck up ahead.
After what seemed like a mile of slow creeping, I could see flashing lights up ahead. A semi rig was off the road on the right side. The tail of the trailer was barely visible inside the edge of tree line. The truck was facing down a steep bank. The cab was buried in the trees tipping off the edge of a creek bank at the bottom. Cables, winches, massive tow trucks and a trackhoe were at work.
I didn’t hear or see any ambulances. I hoped the driver was okay. At the very least, he was having a bad day.
Flash back to the early 1980s. Beth and I lived in Cartersville, GA back then. We had made a trip down to Selma to visit with her family. She went a few days ahead of me and when I got off work for the weekend, I drove down to join the party.
It was highly unusual for us to travel separately. I was the protective manly twenty something kid. She was the damsel who allowed me to do all the driving. But not on this trip.
When it came time to head home, the weather turned awful. Thunderstorms and heavy rain had moved in all across the southeast. It was going to be a miserable drive back to Georgia. Some of the route was state highway. Some of it interstate. But the last leg involved a small winding tar and gravel county road. The worst kind for bad weather.
We made a pit stop when we got off I-20. It was dark. A cold miserable rain. Coffee and a snack and a little conversation was necessary before we got back on the road.
“I think we’ll head up Hwy 113. Then about halfway, there’s a county road that cuts through over to Hwy 61 and straight into Cartersville. We’ll be home soon. You doing okay?”
“Just sleepy, but I’ll be okay.”
I had been following her for the last three and a half hours. But the next stretch of road was not familiar to her.
“I think I need to follow you. I have no idea where we’re going” she said.
I don’t know, it’s just harder to keep an eye on things from in front. When I’m behind her, I feel like I’m in a better place to see what’s going on. If she breaks down or has a problem, there’s’ no chance I’ll miss it. But I reluctantly agreed to take the lead.
It was slow going, the rain was blinding. I had an 8-track in the deck. I kept a constant eye on the rearview mirror. If I had then what I have now, I would have been on my cell phone with her making sure she was okay. Seeing her headlights come over the hill or around the curve was the only contact I had.
Once we got to the “short cut” it seemed like the weather got worse. The wind was rocking my Chevelle. A sharp curve almost caught me off guard and I slowed down. Gave me the shivers. Then I saw her headlights sweep out across the dark to my left. I looked in my mirror and saw taillights where there should have been headlights, then headlights again circling, and then blackness. She just disappeared.
I don’t know if this is accurate or not, but in my mind I pulled a Steve McQueen spin-around. Off on the shoulder and gunned it to get back to where I last saw her lights. When I came up on the curve, I could see her lights pointing up to the sky, her car down a steep bank tail first.
I jumped out, slid down the bank and opened her door. Her hands were over her face. She was shaking but otherwise fine. Not even a bruise. The car was going nowhere.
Down the road about a quarter mile we could see the lights of a house. We got back in my car soaking wet and pulled up in the drive. The porch light was on, so it seemed inviting. The lady opened the door to two dripping wet kids. Beth needed a restroom and I asked to use the phone. We thanked her for her kindness and went back to the road to wait on the tow truck. She insisted we take a cup of soup with us.
Other than having grass and dirt jammed up through the underside of the car, it was fine. The tow truck guy says, “You should be good to drive it home. Y’all be careful.”
It took most of the next hour to shake off the shakes.
I told her, “You go ahead of me this time. When you get to the next stop sign about 10 miles down the road, take a left. That’ll take us right into town and you’ll know where you’re at. You okay to do that?”
She sighs. “Yeah. I can do that.”
I kid her, which is what I’ve always done when she’s nervous. “You take it easy in the curves.” She punches me in the shoulder, and I know she’s gonna be okay.
In preparation for Thanksgiving, I’ve decided to be thankful for little things. And not just for the Holiday. One day is simply not enough. One prayer around a table filled with family and turkey and dressing just seems inadequate. One holiday lived out in a spirit of gratitude cannot cover all the best that life has brought me.
It’s just too easy and almost shameful to take all the good things for granted. A dark night on a lonely county road in the rain could have turned out a whole lot worse. But it didn’t. And for that I’ll count my blessings. For that and a thousand others like it, I can get over all the gloom that tries to drown out the good in this life.
I’m not any kind of psychologist. I can’t even begin to understand all the disappointments that you might be facing. But I know this. Being grateful for life goes a long way toward making life matter. You sleep better. Food taste better. Joy finds you more easily. Even the most seemingly insignificant God-given moment can change the way you live.
Thanksgiving doesn’t need a special day. If we let it, it will find us every day.