Ditched. verb. A word I made up for driving into the ditch. Not to be confused with being left behind on a social outing.
‘Twas the day after a raging good blizzard. The wind was still howling, as it is wont to do on the prairies of northwest Minnesota.
The roads are fine when I drive the three miles to my grandparents’ house in the afternoon. When I leave later that night, I give travel conditions less than half a thought. It’s all of three miles. Roads should be fine, since this afternoon they were totally clear. Even though the wind has been whipping for six hours I shouldn’t run into any drifts, right?
I’m a mile from home, nearing the spot where the road is almost always drifted over. Even in June. I see one snowdrift, hit it, no a big deal. I might drive like a grandma, but I’ve got this. There are more ahead. Oh well. We’re already committed, Dora the Explorer and I. (Dora the Explorer is a car, for context. A Ford Explorer, if you were wondering.) So, like a good country girl, I gun it. Hold the steering wheel with loose control, go through a few, no problem, see that bump ahead and also see that I’m almost through, so go, go, steer a little to the left to avoid that biggggger tidal wave of snow and I’m bouncing and that one was harder than expected and almost there and a little more left and –
Ooooh – shhh – zmmm – vlumpt – whump.
My car has stopped. It’s still in drive. But we ain’t goin’ nowhere.
I throw it in reverse, just to see if miracles happen and I can get out the easy way. Nothing. Jesus does okay with water, I know, but he must be less experienced with snow. I leave it in reverse. (Whoops. Oh well, didn’t matter ‘cause we didn’t move anyway.) I call home. I tell my mom that I’m in the ditch and that this fair damsel needs rescuing. While I wait for the knights in shining…mittens? I assess the situation. Out the driver’s side window, snow is half-way up the door. It won’t open. I text my boyfriend a picture, forgetting that maybe he might freak out that his girlfriend is in a ditch, in the dark, and that she has not mentioned the state of the vehicle or the rescue plans. I decide to shimmy over the center console and out the passenger side door. I click the unlock button four times, because I am not getting locked out of the car that is still running after I just drove it in the ditch. The universe is not that cruel. I step out, and sink in snow up to my shin. Special. I don’t know why I got out of the car in the first place, actually. Examining my tracks will accomplish zero things. I’m not dumb enough to start walking home, because there’s a -25º wind chill. No exaggeration. The wind might be blowing express from the north pole.
I get back in the car and watch for the car lights from home. I’m so close that I can see my yard, half a mile away across the field. I check Instagram while I wait, because avoidance. Avoidance of thinking that well, this was stupid and how in the heck did I do this and why does it take so long for them to put on boots and come and get me?
Car lights leave our yard. The dad and the brother pull up and admire how I very clearly drove right off the road, in a straight, angling line. My dad points out that I did, at least, clear all of the drifts. The ditch just got in the way. We do not attempt pushing the car out, because we know a hopeless case when we see one. We drive home. I reassure the boyfriend that all is relatively fine. Except my pride, because I feel mighty foolish. I am supposed to be an independent country girl at heart who does not drive into ditches to avoid drifts.
My grandpa comes with his pickup. We go back out onto the frozen tundra with two shovels and a chain and more horsepower. My brother hands me an ice scraper. This is symbolic of my helpfulness in this entire process. They move a lot of snow. I, again, wonder what in the heck I was doing. The pickup, chained to the underside of the car, bucks all over the road, to no avail.
Time for plan B: the tractor. We drive to my grandparents’ to retrieve it. One hiccup: it doesn’t have lights. Oh, and it might not start. And it doesn’t have any heat. I thank my lucky stars that my grandpa has more sense than the rest of us and is wearing snow pants. And that he and my dad and my brother are nice to me.
Miracle of miracles, the old tractor lives. We drive, very slowly, behind it, our headlights blazing. No one in our ungainly procession drives off the road (except me, an hour earlier. But I had lights). The tractor plows straight through the troublesome drifts. The guys hook up the chain, and I try to helpfully hold the flashlight. The stars are nice tonight, at least. But my legs are popsicles. The car pops out. Halleluiah. It’s only been an hour and a half since I left my grandparents’ house.
It all works out. Everyone (and all vehicles) make it home. Not before I pray that, while driving my grandpa back to his house, I don’t lose control on the snowy parts and slide off the road. Again. And not before I contemplate for a nanosecond trying the drifted-in road again because there are tracks now! and I almost made it through one time! and OH MY GOSH, ANNA, ARE YOU AN IDIOT, JUST TAKE THE OTHER ROAD, my rational side says.
When I park the car, in the driveway where it’s supposed to go, finally, I question whether maybe I should have a chauffer for the rest of my life. I also wonder, not for the first time, at the irony of being voted the “safest driver” in my senior yearbook. It hits me anew, most striking of all, that my closest people don’t love me because I am a good driver or because I never require them to spend an hour and half standing in Arctic windchill fixing my messes or because I am flawless. I didn’t earn their love. It’s not gifted to me based on my merit. They show up when I need them, even when it’s not convenient.
And that is a miracle. Maybe Jesus can work in snow, after all.