On Tuesday the snowflakes began to fall.
At school, I watched intently out my office window, watching the ground, watching the weather reports, watching for school closings. As the ground grew white, I grew nervous. A test drive around the lot and my fears were confirmed. There was snow and ice on the ground, and I had a school full of preschoolers and teachers.
I gave up on the school systems and called it: “Come get your preschoolers!!”
But like everyone else, I was too late.
An hour later, 35 of the 70 preschoolers were still sitting, eating, playing and waiting with many teachers, with a few snowbound parents and even some wandering, freezing high school students.
Outside the ground was white, the sky was white, the cars and roofs and bushes were white. The trees stood in dark contrast to the landscape: a world of black and white.
But inside, a study in contrast where lights warmed and hot drinks and food nourished the bodies and spirits of the stranded, my decisions were anything but black and white. Outcomes changing by the minute, as more snow smothered our chances of progress, I scurried back and forth communicating and arranging what had turned into a strange sort of rescue.
After parents had tramped and slipped for miles through the snowy hills of Mountain Brook to their happy, carefree children; after answering calls from parents whose cars were in ditches and ten car sliding pile-ups; when only a few were left, I traipsed across a flawlessly blanketed courtyard, breathing in the icy air and looking for the next step as my soft footsteps marked my path. Behind me lay decisions and carefully placed prints; ahead lay the next phase of this snowy adventure.
Hours have passed and evening approaches. A few remain, but most are home…one way or another. I’d long ago given up any expectation of going home. Here till the end like a captain and her ship. With a few preschoolers remaining, we buddy up and find refuge for the night.
Bundled and loaded, we embark on a snowy trek: a teacher, two three year olds, two toddlers, a young neighbor and myself. We walk uphill, around a curve, up another hill, down and up and around again. The snow crunches, the air like ice, the world shrouded in a silent muffle of white. With two deposited at their temporary home, and carrying the three year old (whose first language is Chinese), we walk and huff and puff till the end. Four weary, frozen travelers finally enter a warmer world: a glowing room, crackling fire, flowing drinks, warming meal, smiling welcome. A refuge of Southern hospitality.
After nourishment and recuperation, a long night commences… sleeping in clothes and comforting weepy, home-sick children. My baby in my bed, refusing to remain in the loaned crib, she rotates all night with glow-in-the-dark passy, feet in my face and little hands smelling of cake. Reminded of days having an infant, I hummed and sang and deliriously whispered to her of puppies and kitties and cupcakes and flowers to keep her from again waking our little friend on his pallet.
Finally morning breaks. I knew it would come.
Deep freezing temperatures give way to hot coffee and a kind breakfast, day old clothes and friendly conversation, frozen plans but warm hearts. Seeing the news that so many spent the long, cold night in cars or walking down iced interstates makes us even more grateful for our situation, and also questioning when we could make it home.
After a wintery walk back to the preschool to restock supplies (diapers are a must!), a sudden chance arrives…a window of opportunity to attempt the journey home. Again, we are rescued by the kindness of others, as a Tahoe-driving preschool dad comes to our aid. We begin the detouring, slow-sliding, wreck-passing, sidewalk-driving, careful-navigating, backtracking, long drive to Homewood.
We pass a tangle of chaos: cars upended, cars in rivers, garbage trucks and mail trucks abandoned, car pile ups blocking entire roads. People walking everywhere, people helping everywhere, people hosting in homes, pushing stalled cars, offering rides, sharing advice, giving encouragement.
Through one last snarled junction, I see my snow-covered home and my sweet little preschooler’s worried father. Relief, appreciation, joy…hard to describe the emotions that filled my soul.
At the end of this adventure, as I sit by my fire in my chair in my home, a simple thought covers my mind:
We are all neighbors…
and there is no place like home.
Special thanks to my amazing staff of preschool teachers for keeping the kids warm, happy and safe; to Bonnie Hartley, for creating a food and drink-filled refuge in the fellowship hall; to Nikki Still & Celeste Henderson who stayed till the end; to the Alex who pushed the double stroller of babies up snowy hills and took in two children; to Alex, Linda and Scott Kingsford for opening their home to “preschool refugees” and sharing their food, love and resources; to my little three-year-old sidekick for the night, for his calm and cheerful disposition and trust in me; to his parents, again for trusting me to care for their baby; to Scott Miklic for driving us home when the outcome was only a chance; to my husband and daughter for walking through the snow (twice!) while they were sick with the flu, to pick up our son and our neighbor; to my Dad for helping us get our car back days later; to Heather and Barry Brown for sheltering and comforting other stranded preschool families, that they had never met, for the night and the day; to the drivers who picked up walking parents and helped them get to their children; to teachers who slept at schools and kept children safe; to good, kind people everywhere who made an unbearable and dangerous situation for so many Southerners an experience of the greatest humanity and love.
Southern hospitality at its finest.