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Friday, February 18, 2011

But Wait! There’s More!…Storytelling in the Valley…

Captain and 1st Mate I have one more question to ask Gramma. Well…not a question, really, but a request. But it’ll have to wait because Gramma sets her cup down with a thump, looks at me. A tentative smile widens into a grin. “Do you know what happened to me?” Now Gramma is not a newcomer to strange events, and I expect what she is about to tell me will be no less than strange. “NOW what happened, Gramma?”I ask.

“That last flood we had, remember?” I tell her I not only remembered, but wrote a post about it, took pictures…provided topnotch coverage. “Well,” she continues, “I was out of milk and probably should have waited, but…”

Out of milk in a Valley filled with dairies and cows. Now I can understand Gramma’s predicament. I mean, after all, there’s the morning’s cereal to drown. And that warm glass of milk to help you sleep--milk and toilet paper… don’t we all get nervous when we’re out of either one?

“…I thought I’d run down to Tim and Sandy’s for a half gallon.” I remember that night: the pelting rain, temps in the mid-fifties, a flood watch on all the local rivers. But when there’s no milk in the fridge, it’s a minor crisis. So seventy-seven year-old Joan Snow—Gramma—backed her black Mercury sedan out of the garage and with Charlie the Spaniel riding shotgun, drove off into the storm for a half gallon of milk.

On the lower Loop Road she passed a “water over the roadway” sign. “I know the State Patrol will fine you if you’re caught driving through floodwaters,” says Gramma. “I know you’re not supposed to….” Now anyone familiar with the Valley—Joan Snow, most certainly—knows the quarter mile stretch of road between Andy and Steve Werkhovens’ homes is one of the first areas to submerge during flood events.The Bay of Gramma “But I thought the water might have gone down,” she mused. Not a totally irrational assumption, considering flood waters along that stretch recede as rapidly as they rise, oftentimes draining away before the County crews have time to remove the warning signs.

As she approached that low stretch of roadway, water black and rippling gleamed in the headlight beams: the road was underwater. “I didn’t think it was very deep, so I started to ease slowly across.” (How high’s the water, Gramma?” I think.) Suddenly she realized she’d made a mistake. “I couldn’t see to back up; I had to keep going. I could see current on the riverside of the road, but I had to keep going.” Creeping through water nearly up to her doors, Gramma plowed the big sedan to the opposite shore. “I made it across ok,” she sighed. On to the farm for that half gallon of milk.

At the dip in Frohning Road Gramma again splashed through floodwaters. But she had arrived—to the dismay of Tim and Sandy who were not in the least pleased that Gramma had gone out in the storm and was driving around in the dark with the Valley filling up with water. Now for that jug of milk….

But Tim and Sandy were not about to let Gramma drive off into the night unescorted. Grandson Matt fired up the big John Deere and led his grandmother back up the road where there were more surprises in store for her. “I was only there long enough to pick up the milk…not more than three, maybe five, minutes, “she explained, “but the water was a lot higher in that dip than before.”Onto the lower Loop Road, Matt piloting the big John Deere. The plan was for the tractor to push the water aside and Gramma would follow close behind in the shallower wake. Into the river they went, Matt plowing the way. (How high’s the water now, Gramma?) “The water was over the hood of the car!” she exclaimed. “But I kept going…the hood was tight enough to keep the water out, I guess…I thought I would start floating at anytime…at any moment I’d be washed away! But I kept on.”

Now think of all the flood coverage you’ve seen on the evening news over the years. After dramatic footage of homes submerged up to the eaves, what’s always the next thing you see? Vehicles, rooflines barely visible above the roiling current…cars and pickup trucks, swept away and their drivers with them. Why? They drove into the floodwaters, thinking: “I know where the road is, drive it all the time….”Yes, but did you drive it with a portion of roadway washed away by the current?”N. HighRock R.,'06 (Last summer I talked to a fellow who lived in the house at the corner of Sargent Road during the 2006 flood event. “When we came back to check on the house, instead of wading up the driveway,we marched across the cornfield and came up on it from behind. Glad we did. When the water went down, we saw the flood had washed a ditch twelve feet deep right through the driveway!”)

I look across at Gramma and think how close she came to missing out on those donuts--and me this interview. “Joan Snow,” I think, “washed out to sea…lost for good…never heard from again!” (How high’s the water NOW, Gramma!)

I was sure it was her John Deere breakwater that saved her. “No,” she exclaims, “It was my car, my big, heavy car. It was too heavy to float…that’s the only thing that saved me! My heavy car saved my life!”

Gramma, Charlie, and that half gallon of milk made it home safely, but not without some water damage. “My feet got wet, and the floorboard of the seat behind me had four inches of water!”she laughs. There again is that fine line between tragedy and comedy. Gramma had parted the waters and come away laughing. She takes me out to show me that big, black Mercury, the car that saved her life. She points out the high water mark on the floorboard of the backseat, gestures at the hood, shakes her head and repeats, “The water was going right over it, but I kept on going!” I have a flash vision of the sleek black hood, except now it’s the bow of a submarine: “Dive, Dive!” and the last to slip beneath the waves is Gramma, captain’s cap, gold braid and all, perched on her white head, in the conning tower, slamming the hatch shut just as the waters swirl overhead.

Imagine that: close to shipping out for just a half gallon of milk! And free milk, at that. But think of the cost! Now that Gramma is high and dry, the family sees the humor in her narrow escape. Grandma Snow has been granted a Captain’s commission, the spaniel Charlie, First Mate. And the “savior car” has been rechristened the “S.S. Mercury Outboard.”

The next day the Mercury heads for the shop where it’s checked out and detailed, the oil changed, the vehicle scrutinized for water damage. Gramma’s free half gallon of milk rings up a hefty $244! Sandy Frohning comments, “I wish we dairy farmers could get that kind of money for our milk!”

And by the way…that question, that final request I had of Gramma?  “Gramma, tell me your BEST Valley story.” Not much point in making that request now is there!

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  1. Yes, there was a reason Jessie and I would close our eyes and hold one another's hands when delivering berries with good ol' G.S. way back when. A fearless driver that Gramma. :)

  2. Yes, when Gramma gets behind the wheel, she's a force to be reckoned with. Just ask our mailbox!