Maybe we were crazy to attempt a trip into the city in blizzard conditions. However, Mom and I do love Stuart Mclean; the last time we attended the Christmas concert was 2007. Ever since my husband gave me tickets in September, Mom and I have been raring to go to the Vinyl Cafe Christmas Concert. Today, Southern Alberta was hit with the second big blizzard in a week. Last Friday, instead of driving 40 minutes North to take our son to a hockey game, we snuggled in at home with a movie. We soon learned that the highway was closed. The next morning, we saw cars in the ditch; there had been several accidents, and one man died.
With prairie determination, Mom and I set off to the city. It took us about an hour to get to the auditorium. We took the secondary highways and experienced a few white-outs and close calls on our way in. Arriving more than an hour early, we rejoiced at the great parking spot near the front doors. Shoulders hunched against the icy wind, we hustled into the Jubilee. We unfolded in the warmth of the lobby, took off our coats and made our way to the bar. As we enjoyed a drink and thawed our feet, an appealing looking man approached us and reached out to shake our hands.
"Thank you for coming to the show", Stuart Mclean said in his trademark, gentle voice, "Especially on an evening like this one." Yes, he has warm hands.
Starstruck, I could barely mumble, "We are really looking forward to your show. Thank you!"
Mom and I grinned and marveled as Stuart Mclean greeted all of the people who were in the lobby an hour or so before his show. What a genuinely classy gesture of goodwill and gratitude from a busy man.
Before the show we had time to spare so we wandered around enjoying an uninterrupted conversation. About ten minutes before show time, we settled into our seats. Five minutes later, Stuart ambled on to the stage, and greeted the audience. He thanked us for braving the trip to see the show, and offered to answer a few questions. A young boy asked Stuart who inspired him to write; another asked him which of his characters he most resembled. W.O. Mitchell and E. B. White and Sam were Stuart's answers, given as part of a delightful introduction and back story. Stuart told us how the show would start and that we were welcome to break into enthusiastic cheering and clapping whenever something moved us.
From beginning to end, Mom and I enjoyed our Stuart Mclean's Christmas Concert excursion. The musicians and singers were great. Jill Barber has a voice and style from the 1940s and 1950s and her singing sent a thrill through the crowd. A young man from New Brunswick, Matt Andersen, is clearly an upcoming Star - his soulful voice is a thing of rare beauty. Of course, Stuart's stories made us laugh out loud and his warm nature and enthusiastic appreciation of the musical artists won us over again. Stuart Mclean's Christmas Concert is a superb way to spark the spirit of the giving season.
The drive home through a prairie blizzard was perilous. It shook us to our boots. Mom and I snaked through the city and made our way to the major highway north. The roads in town were okay and there were fewer than usual cars on the road. As we left the city, the traffic thinned; the road consisted of two narrow sets of double ruts in caked snow. I was able to manage speeds of 50 - 60 km until we hit the construction zone where a major interchange is being built.
After the overpass, it became a whiter, eerier and lonelier trek north. There were only a handful of vehicles and most of these had their hazards on. A few pickups flew past, and the two of us clucked about driving without a brain. We inched north single file; cars traveled at speeds of 30 - 40 Km. Mom and I kept chatting about the road conditions, where the other cars were and the power of the wind as it howled and whipped snow across the highway -- anything to keep our growing unease at bay. "Just keep moving forward," I chanted under my breath.
Just past the mall, we experienced the first of several whiteouts. Thick gobs of snow pelted the van; we could not see far in front or behind. It was hard to tell if we were in the right or the left lane. I hoped we were in the center lane. We slowed right down and tried to follow the tail lights of the vehicle ahead of us. Soon, this vehicle was able to pull away and we were left alone. I slowed right down to 10 Km and then stopped. We were all alone in a howling, whirlwind of snow.
It is terrifying to sit like an exposed duck out on a prairie highway surrounded by a swirling blizzard. All you can hear is the howling power of the icy wind as it rocks your vehicle and seeps in through cracks. So many things can go terribly wrong when you stop on the highway in a blizzard, from running out of gas and having to walk in the wind & snow, to getting hit by another vehicle whose driver is blinded by the snow but kept on moving, or getting out of your car to help someone else and getting hit yourself.
After a few minutes, the windshield was covered in wet, chunky slush balls that the wipers could no longer move. I had to get out of the van to crack the slush chunks off of the windshield wiper blades. As I stepped out of the car, I sank into snow covered grass.
"Okay, we are on the 'left' side of the highway", I thought, oddly relieved to have this little piece of knowledge.
I was only able to dislodge the slushy ice from the left wiper as icy wind whipped through my hair and down my back. It was too cold to be in the bone chilling wind, so I skipped the right. I dove back into the van and tried somewhat successfully to clear the windshield. Luckily, we could see a few headlights from on-coming traffic, and a quick look behind revealed a car approaching us. We waited until the car passed us, and then slid in behind to follow this car like it was a mother duck. Soon, another car was following us, and eventually we made our way slowly into our city like several sopping wet and frozen ducklings.
With city lights and a few cars around, it was much easier to navigate. We wheeled through town, and I dropped Mom off at her house where she had to stork step through 2 foot high drifts up to her front door. I promised to call when I got home, as is our custom.
The 5 minute trip from Mom's to my neighborhood was relatively uneventful, as were the final few blocks towards home. In my eagerness to get to my family, I turned the final corner, looked for my house, and ploughed the van right into a 2 foot snowdrift. I tried forward, reverse, forward, reverse. No go - the tires were covered. I tried to dig the front tires out, but there wasn't much I could do with a windshield scraper. Just as I was ready to leave my hazards on, turn the van off and head home on foot, three fellows showed up with two shovels and big hearts. These men had just dug another car out of a snowdrift.
It took about ten minutes for the four of us to get the van out of the snow drift. One fellow drove my van, and the other two dug out the front tires. A few pushes from the diggers and me, and the fellow drove my van a dozen yards down the street into another small drift. He back up, we caught up to push, and then he drove forward. After a few such forays, the man was able to get the van out of the drifts. He pulled ahead and waited so I could jump in. Then, he drove me home.
I would never have gotten out of the snow drift tonight without the help of these good neighbors. I feel bone deep gratitude for these good samaratins who helped me get the final 200 yards home. Thank you to the three guardian angels who pushed and drove my van out of a snow drift tonight. I appreciate your kind and generous hearts.
Thank you to the other drivers on Deerfoot for using your hazard lights and driving slowly and carefully. Thank you, God, for Stuart Mclean and for seeing my mom and I safely home.