A lesson from Thanksgivings past 

The Center for Disease Control and Prevention is asking Americans not to travel for Thanksgiving. 

Usually it’s the weather bureau making that call.

And when the wages were 50% higher on the coast and family was in Idaho, my husband Bill and I took that warning to mean only that we needed chains, water and snacks.

Two days before we left for Idaho for Thanksgiving 1969, Boeing had notified Bill he’d be transferring 40 miles north to Everett. The drive home gave us time to think. If he got a different job, he wouldn’t have any time off for Christmas. But if he stayed and the rumored layoff happened, he could end up competing with thousands of other job hunters.

Before leaving Idaho, he decided he’d pick up his tools Monday.

It was dark and snowing lightly as we started the grade up to Snoqualmie Pass. Less than two hours from home, we were making plans. Bill quitting Boeing made the job interview I had Monday important.

Then traffic stopped. Just stopped. It snowed more. We waited. Bill joined a group going car to car seeing who needed help. They handed kids apples and oranges and managed to find a camper with people willing to heat milk for an infant.

I fretted about wasted time.

Not until the third hour–as the snow got deeper and reports indicated the line was longer than we’d imagined–did my priorities shift. People died during mountain snow storms, but our little community had blankets and shelter and companions and snacks.

Time didn’t matter. Living did.

When, after five hours, traffic began moving, we slid off the road. Tow trucks would only stop for cars blocking traffic. We waited.

Later we learned the stopped cars extended seven miles. A truck had jack-knifed and idling cars ran out of gas while waiting for the road to be cleared. More cars ran out of gas as those were cleared.

After that, we celebrated most Thanksgivings with friends on the coast, but one time–when our daughters were three and four–we ventured to Spokane.

When we heard a storm warning, we left Spokane early so we’d be over Snoqualmie before dark. But we had hardly started when wind and snow worse than any other we’d seen hit. At one point, Bill stopped to chip away ice that was rubbing the tires. The engine ran badly afterward, and he opened the hood to find ice and snow blocking the air filter. He took it out and promised we’d get another.

But nothing was open in Ellensburg.  We called an old high school friend and her husband met us at the main road with a snow plow. Snow was piled up to our door handles.

When I called my principal to say that I’d miss Monday, he said, “Teachers get sick days, but they don’t get too-gutless-to drive-the-pass days.” I assured him no amount would persuade me to take two toddlers over Snoqualmie that night.

The next day, with a new air filter, we started up Snoqualmie on freshly grated roads under sunny skies. Had we been overcautious?  Then we saw a school bus that had slid off a four-foot embankment and landed on its side. I could only imagine how frightened and shaken the kids would have been. How hard it must have been for injured kids waiting in freezing darkness.

There’s an old saying that warns about winning the battle and losing the war, about concentrating on the short term rather than the future.

May we all keep our eyes on the future.

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