A Candle In The Ice
Watching the Super Bowl game brought a memory back about my family that happened many years ago. With the Baltimore Ravens comfortably in the lead 28-6 after returning the second half kickoff 108 yards the unexpected occurred. With 13:22 left in the third quarter half of the stadium lights went out. Thankfully it wasn’t a full blackout but it obviously was enough where play had to be stopped. After the thirty four minute delay the San Francisco 49ers picked up the momentum that the Ravens left in the dark. The Ravens hung on for dear life for a 34-31 win. It was a game that might not have been so close if the unexpected hadn’t happened.
I believe the year was 1985. My sister, mom, and dad planned a trip to Florida. My dad had some property in Florida and they were scheduled to see the land, stay at their good friends in Zephyhills, Florida and possibly stop at my dad’s beloved Alabama hometown on the way back. From Michigan it is a long car trip and my mom decided to include her own little survival kit. She brought along a coffee can, candle and matches. My sister rode in the backseat and had a quilt and pillow in case she or anyone else wanted to take a nap. The trip went smoothly as they did everything according to plan. They stayed one night in Zephyhills with their friends. My dad helped his friend fix his car which kept him occupied. They later shopped at a grocery store and had lunch together. Although their friends begged them to stay another night my dad thought it best to get back on the road. About 2 pm they left the confines of their good friends and hit the road. About four hours later driving down the highway going 75-80 miles an hour in Georgia the unexpected happened. Sounding like a shot but coming from the car an explosion sound rang out. My dad noticed that the car stalled, the lights went out, and there was no power steering. At first he was steering the car to the right side, but my mom yelled out “go left”. Taking her advise he wrestled the car to the left medium and down a five foot slope. My sister thought they may flip the car but that didn’t occur. Instead they stopped out of the way of traffic but also in need of help.
Along the way the radio was reporting what record low temperatures Georgia was having that day. The night time temperatures were going to be even colder. Not only were the temperatures going to be below zero but a stiff wind was also blowing. My sister had a red sweater she dug out of her suitcase and they put a flashlight inside of it. My dad went out to the side of the road and waved it in hopes that someone would stop. Unfortunately, even though there were cars passing nobody stopped. My sister noted in reliving the story that not even the four or five police cars that passed stopped. After my dad was literally frozen from his efforts my sister relieved him. Nothing changed as the traffic kept moving without anyone willing to help. It was like the story of the Good Samaritan except the Good Samaritan couldn’t be found. By this time the darkness had set in and the roads were getting worse. Finally a semi truck stopped at about midnight. The drivers appearance was very much in question and when he insisted that he wouldn’t help unless my sister came with him, she refused. The truck driver left them stranded. Traffic was starting to lessen and it was decided that they would have to do their best to survive until daylight.
My mom lit the candle and put it inside the coffee can. They took the quilt that they had originally brought for napping and wrapped it around all three of them. They sat on their knees and huddled up in the front seat. The candle along with their body heat produced enough heat for them to survive. It probably got up to thirty degrees in the car which was far better than the below zero temperature outside. Ever so slowly daylight came. It was still frigidly cold as my dad made the effort to flag someone down. Surprisingly when in the light a new revelation was discovered. The path to the right that he originally was going to take when the lights went out had a twenty foot drop off. If they had went with his first instinct the car would have flipped probably killing all of them.
Not only were they freezing cold but they were all hungry having their last meal at lunch the previous day. The roads had gotten worse and there was far less traffic on the highway. It wasn’t until about 11 am that someone stopped. It was another truck driver, driving a long flatbed truck. Once again his appearance left a lot to be desired. At first he insisted that my sister go along with him. My dad volunteered that he would go and the driver almost reluctantly took him. My mom was apprehensive about the situation and hugged my dad like she might not ever see him again. Dad reassured her that he would come back and rescue them. Dad got into the truck and off they went.
Mom was really worried at this point. She mentioned to my sister that you never know what might happen. Dad could be hit in the head and killed and they could be left there to freeze to death. I’m sure the apprehension increased as time went by. My sister and mom huddled together and prayed and sang hymns. Time continued to drag on. An hour passed and still no truck to rescue them. They continued to pray and sing. About two hours after my dad was picked up a tow-truck came driving down the wrong side. Dad was nowhere in sight. The driver said that he was sent to pick them up. Although they were glad someone seemed to be there for them mom was still apprehensive. “Why wasn’t dad with him?”, she thought. The car was hooked to the tow-truck and mom and my sister climbed in the cab. Mom told my sister that if this man tried to kill them for her to escape and not stay to find out moms fate. The tow-truck driver started talking about how cold it was. “You mean you survived all night in that car?” “It was reported that this was the coldest night on record around here!” They drove and drove and finally stopped at a service station right next to a hotel. There mom and sister were happily reunited with my dad! Dad realized there would be limited room in the cab and thought it best to stay behind.
The service station garage discovered that the fan belt had broken on the car. It happened that the garage didn’t have this particular fan belt in stock. The owner said that they would have to call another party and if they didn’t have the belt the car couldn’t be fixed until an out of town delivery could be made. This would take a day or two. Fortunately the belt was available and a young guy working there had compassion on them and said that he would drive the few miles and pick it up! After a three hour wait the car was fixed!
In the days and years to follow my dad always referred to this episode as “The night when the lights went out in Georgia”. That songs title had a new meaning to all three of them. Although the song was actually about a brother getting murdered it is ironic that the name of the town the brother returned home from was named “Candletop”.
As I was thinking about their adventure so many years later certain ironies came to mind. First of all the decision to go left instead of right had to be a Godsend. With their lights disabled and darkness setting in, that decision literally saved their lives. The whole scene seemed like they were in Gods hands also! The car for instance offered a place of protection from the winds. The candle and the coffee can was like the light in their hearts that the Holy Spirit brought. The candle wick was like Jesus’ body and because he died the light inside of them was always burning! Then there was the quilt. It was wrapped around them much like how God wraps his arms around us showing his love as he warms us and protects us from all harm.
I can picture in my mind three people huddled together with a quilt around them in the dark, with only the flickering light of a candle preventing total darkness. My parents had my sister sit in the middle to give her added warmth from them. We learn a lot about ourselves in crises times and I think that their seating arrangement suggested that if only one of them survived it would be my sister. I imagine that time moved very slowly as they sat there. Under these circumstances I doubt that anyone slept for more than a few minutes. We’ve all had the experience of watching the clock wishing the time would pass quicker. In these moments it seems that time stands still. When daylight at last finally came they discovered that there was about an inch and a half of ice that had formed on the inside of the windows. Still flickering it’s light, the candle was strongly burning giving the warmth that they needed to survive another day.