Getting ready to go to church with everyone in the family wearing two shoes that matched was a major accomplishment at my house. But somehow it seemed worse when I needed to be somewhere on time.
“What’s the matter with you?” I shouted at my younger sister as my father finally started the car and sped out of the driveway toward the church. “Can’t you keep track of your shoes for even one Sunday?” My mom and dad looked at each other with faint smiles as I continued: “I can’t believe this family. Nobody thinks about anybody but themselves! Nobody understands how I feel around here! I’ll be late for sure now!”
When we got to the church, my family quickly piled out, and I hurriedly moved over behind the wheel, anxious to leave as quickly as possible. Mom started telling me to drive carefully and not get home too late because it might storm. Dad was trying to tell me the fastest way to get to the other ward.
“All right,” I said to both parents talking at the same time. “Good-bye!”
“How am I supposed to give a spiritual talk when I’m feeling like this?” I thought as the wheels of the car screeched out of the church parking lot, and I sped toward another meetinghouse.
The meeting had already begun when I got there, and I had to walk to the front of the chapel alone. The bishop looked relieved when I finally sat down. The meeting sped by, and soon I heard my name announced as the next speaker. My heart suddenly began to beat frantically as I walked toward the pulpit. My shaky voice hardly seemed my own as I looked up momentarily at the strange faces in the congregation and began my talk.
“I’m going to talk about bridges,” I said quietly. “We need to build bridges to others if we want to come close together.” I cleared my voice twice and continued, “All the everyday things we do with each other can build bridges if we let them. Just eating and laughing or talking or working or going through the same hard times can be ways of building bridges if we communicate that we care and share our feelings.”
My nervousness made me glance at my paper much more often than I had at home when I had practiced my talk.
“We can build bridges by realizing that we are all basically alike. We all have many of the same fears and problems and desires and hopes.”
My words seemed insincere and forced. My mother had suggested my topic and supplied me with the material for my talk. I was glad to sit down when my talk was over.
After the meeting was over, I quickly jumped in the car and headed toward the mountains near my home. I just wanted to be alone for a while. My family had arranged for a ride home from their meeting, so I wouldn’t be missed for a while. It was always so noisy, and I never felt like I had the privacy I needed at home. The hills seemed an excellent escape for now.
That night the setting sun cast an orange tint over the white softness of snow capping the mountains. Slowly snowflakes began to dance off the windshield and whirl around the car as I headed up the small mountain road. The orange haze of the sun turned to blues and purples as I drove on. In the peaceful winter evening, I felt alone and yet not lonely. Night shadows drifted across the road, and slowly a few stars began to glimmer in the velvet blue sky. I drove on, oblivious of the increasing frenzy of the snowfall.
Soon the snow began to drift high against the sides of the small mountain road. Still I drove farther and farther into the mountains, unwilling to release the peace of the moment.
I began to notice that the storm had become a blizzard outside the car, and the road was beginning to become impassable. I decided I would turn around and start toward home the first chance I got. At a wide spot in the road, I turned the car for home.
The car began to skid out of control, and it rolled slowly over an embankment and hit against a tree. The sudden jolt brought me quickly back to the reality of the situation.
“What a dumb thing to do!” I shouted at myself as I tried to open the door and see how badly I was struck. The snow was almost covering the wheels of the car, and the incline back up to the road looked pretty steep. I started to dig the snow away from the tires and later crawled back, shaking, into the car.
I tried to start the motor again. The wheels spun with a futile sound. I gunned the motor, trying to get the car to move at least a little. But no matter how hard I pushed the gas pedal, there was only the same spinning sound of the wheels, and I could feel the car settling deeper into a hole.
I crawled out of the car again and anxiously worked at the snow around the tires. The wind was mercilessly blowing snow against me. I hadn’t bothered to wear a coat. I hadn’t told anybody where I was going. My high-heeled shoes and white lace dress hardly seemed fitting now. I crawled back into the car and tried the motor again and again. Finally the motor refused to turn over at all. The dead thud as I turned the key made me shiver.
“Well, I can’t stay here all night,” I said to myself.
I crawled out of the car and climbed back onto the road. The stupidity of my situation embarrassed me. I knew better than to start up a lonely mountain road at night with a storm brewing. It hadn’t seemed dangerous until now.
I folded my arms tightly around myself and began to shake as I looked down the long stretch of road. The wind and snow billowed and howled around me as I started to walk down the lonely dark road.
“How stupid can you be!” I began to shout out loud.
The strong storm wind was at my back, pushing me down the steep incline of the road and causing me to continually slip on the icy road. The heels of my shoes wobbled and made even upright walking hard in the wind.
“Just look at the mess you’re in, and it’s all your fault! There’s no one else to blame!” I continued to shout.
The wind continued to blow me down the hill. My dress was completely wet now, and it stung against my skin as the wind whipped it against me.
Farther down the road, I noticed a large piece of wood protruding through the snow. I wrapped my arms around the wooden pole and felt along its side. It seemed to be a large wooden rail of some sort. I thought it was probably part of the bridge that I could remember driving over on my way up the canyon. I held onto the bridge railing and slowly pulled myself forward. As I neared the end of the bridge and the last of its support, I saw a light glimmering in the distance.
“Hey!” I shouted. “I’m over here! Please help me!”
The light came closer and closer, and soon I saw an old man, clad warmly in winter clothes, peering at me as I hung onto the bridge for support. He put his arm around me and helped me walk farther down the road. He was silent as he edged me toward his home, hidden from view off the main road.
Once we were inside, the warmth from an open fire surrounded me. An old woman walked toward me from the kitchen when the old man called.
“Emma, come here. Got somebody in trouble.”
The old woman placed her warm wrinkled hands on my shaking shoulders.
“You just come right in here,” she said as she guided me to her bedroom and shut the door. “You can take off those wet things and wrap up in this and sit by the fire if you like,” she continued as she handed me a handworked quilt. “I’ll go get you something warm to drink.”
“Thank you,” I answered as she left the room.
The old woman smiled warmly and nodded as she shut the door. Later, after my wet clothes were hung up to dry and my cold body was full of hot chocolate, I wrapped up in the warm quilt by the fire. My companions had been strangely quiet, not asking any questions, only offering me anything I needed. I was glad of it. The old man and woman sat together on the love seat in front of the fire, silent and restful.
“I guess you’re wondering who I am and what in the world I’m doing up here in the middle of a storm. I guess you must think I’m pretty foolish. I should have had more sense, but well …”
“Oh, hush now. You don’t have to make any apologies to us,” the old woman interrupted. “We’re just glad we found you. It’s a long way back down this mountain you know.”
“What were you doing on the road at the end of that bridge?” I asked as I turned to the old man.
“Well, Emma and I were just going to bed when we thought we heard a voice in the wind. Sounded like somebody shouting. It was awfully faint, but we both thought we heard it. I took the light and went out on the bridge to see if I could see anybody. That’s where people have had trouble before. Emma and I built part of that bridge ourselves years and years ago. Seems people were always driving off or falling over the side into the river when it got dark or when it stormed. Emma and I built the railing on the bridge with old railroad ties, and nobody’s fallen over the side since then.”
“That shouting you heard,” I interrupted, “that was probably me shouting at myself for being so stupid. I hope you didn’t hear everything I said.”
“Just heard you on the bridge asking for help,” the old man answered. “There’s been quite a few others like yourself up here in the same predicament. All seem embarrassed like yourself too,” he continued.
“Well, I better call home before my family gets too worried about me,” I said as he finished.
“Phone’s back in the kitchen,” the old woman said as she stood up and guided me to the rear of the small house. “Most people who get stuck up here don’t have anybody to call. They just stay the night, and then Ben takes them down to town when the road is opened. One fellow though, he had a family worrying about him like you. He was one of my favorites.”
“Well, I guess I ought to be glad to have a big family that worries about me, but there’s so many of us, they probably haven’t even missed me yet,” I said.
The old woman smiled.
“Dad,” I said as the phone connection was made, “is that you? Looks like I need your help.”
The old woman slipped from the room as I finished telling dad where I was and how to get there. Dad seemed strangely brief and hung up before I could start apologizing. I walked back into the warm living room by the fire and started planning a good comeback for the inevitable lecture I would get from dad on the way home.
“Your father will be here before long,” the woman said as she headed for the bedroom. “You better put on some of my dry clothes to go home in. I’ll put your wet things in a bag for you.”
It seemed only minutes before dad came clanging up the road to the cottage in our neighbor’s four-wheel-drive truck with chains on the tires. He quickly knocked at the door and began hurrying me out of the house before I could say anything.
“Thank you,” I said as I hurried out the door. “I’ll be back to see you soon when the weather’s better. I promise I will.”
“Well, that’s why I gave you my clothes to wear home,” the old woman said. “It’ll give you a good excuse to come back and visit us. Most people need an excuse,” the woman said as she looked at my dad.
“Be careful of the turn at the bridge, John,” the old man shouted at my dad as we started to get into the truck.
“How does he know your name?” I asked dad. Dad interrupted me as he answered, “Oh, I will Ben. I nearly skidded into the river on the way in here. You’d think I’d know better by now. If it hadn’t been for the railing on the bridge that stopped the car, I would have had to spend another night up here.”
I crawled into the truck and sat confused, as far away from the driver’s seat as possible. Dad hopped into the truck and started slowly down the road.
“Dad,” I asked again, “do you people know each other? Have you been up here too? You mean, you did the same thing? Dad?”
My dad brought his broad arm over the back of the seat and coaxed me to slide over next to him. He smiled as I looked up into his face, and then he put his warm arm around my shoulders.