January 25, 2016
In 1976, huge blizzards hit the east coast. Here in Pittsburgh, traffic slid to a crashing halt. Schools cancelled until the school boards worried students would never serve the required 180 days. Thus, because the weather refused to show mercy, they declared delayed starts. Beginning later allowed plow teams a couple of extra hours to clear the roads, and the weather could warm a bit.
I attended elementary school at that trying time. My family lived on a main road in our community, and nobody could keep up with the accumulation to keep the sidewalks cleared. For safety’s sake, I trudged through yards. As a slight-built child, I could often skim along the iced-over top of drifts. At the bus stop shivered a half dozen kids stomping their feet on a partially-cleared cement triangle like penguins on an iceberg. Snow caught on our outerwear, melted on our cheeks, and blinded us. My mom insisted I line my boots with empty bread bags for added insulation, so I crinkled when the snow crunched. I blew on my hands, hoping to restore feeling to frigid fingers encased in fluffy mittens. Scarves obscured our faces, as all the moms wrapped the knitted items around not only necks but also lips and sometimes over our heads beneath tasseled caps. Many times, the bus did not arrive. After a pre-determined amount of time, the bus guard sent us to the warmth of our homes.
One such day, my brother and the neighbor boys sprinted. They planned to visit their baseball card collections. I trailed behind. Snowflakes assaulted as I slogged through our earlier footpath and lumbered over drifts. Cars splashed salt-laced slush, muddying and soaking through my coat. I stepped as far from the road as I could to avoid the onslaught. I heard a cracking, and my foot broke through a layer of ice. It sunk deep, the snow poured over the top of my boot, and I was stuck. I pulled at my leg, trying to fall back, but a wall of white held me in place. I called for my brother, but he and the neighbors were already home. The guard had already left. Tears left my eyes hot, but froze before they could roll over my cheeks. To my young mind, I’d die, buried in the cold like Hans Christian Anderson’s “Little Match Girl.” I strained against the snow, struggled for freedom, and screamed myself hoarse.
Another aspect of the 1970’s must be here mentioned. My mother warned us to never speak to strangers. She pointed to the rabbit-eared network news casts outlining abducted children. Thus, when a vehicle pulled off the road behind me, I redoubled my effort. Two young men stepped from a van. A van, of all automobiles! The news often announced police searches for children abducted in vans. The men spoke with soothing tones, like I was a caged animal, and lifted me with ease. They set my snow-encrusted self on the road. Like a jackrabbit, I sprinted. I never paused, never looked back, never said thank you. My burst into our home must have astounded my mother. I gasped out my woeful tale as she rubbed my hands under the faucet to warm my frosted fingers. She kissed my tears and stroked my hair without reproach.
To this day, I wish I would have thanked those kind men. I’d explain my fear and apologize for my rudeness. Perhaps they will read this and recognize me from this letter. That would please me. With that hope, thank you for stopping and helping a trapped little girl, and thank you for understanding.
With remiss sincerity,
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