This past weekend, I felt compelled to return to the scene of the crime. My crime.
The Place: Lakepoint State Park in Eufaula, Alabama.
The time: One year ago.
My conviction: Utter selfishness.
My sentence: a year of guilt.
I never really told my story. How I actually felt that weekend…because it would have been grotesquely insensitive. But it’s been a year now…maybe the trauma has departed enough for me to not seem like such a detestable person.
Or maybe not.
One year ago, I was itching for adventure. For winter wonderland. For snow.
A snowstorm was being predicted several days in advance – a massive one. 9-12 inches perhaps!
The only problem? It was definitely not coming to Birmingham. It might go anywhere around Birmingham, but there was a zero percent chance of Birmingham seeing more than a dusting – a dusting that definitely wouldn’t stick more than two seconds.
No way, no how.
So I made the only logical decision: I decided that I MUST go to the snow.
For the children.
First, I spent 36 hours chasing the predictions. As the target moved, I changed my plans. I was going to Charleston…Columbia…Augusta…Atlanta…Middle-of-Nowhere-Georgia…
I invited every one of my friends and relatives to join me, one at a time, trying to get someone in on our grand adventure. But everyone had plans that week, or didn’t want to take their kids out of school, or had some reason that they needed to stay in Birmingham.
Finally, the night before, the weather experts said that the Ground Zero of this massive snow event would be…Eufaula, Alabama.
Three hours southeast of Birmingham.
It seemed unlikely and made no sense – Eufaula has probably never seen more than a handful of snow in its history. But the experts were decisive, so I obeyed. I made reservations at a state park, and I dragged the children out of bed and set off early in the morning, because they said the snow was coming quicker than expected.
Some were happier than others.
It was a harrowing journey, for a southern driver, anyway – I dealt with flakes of snow and drops of sleet and needing to actually use the defrost for its true purpose for the first time in my life.
As we grew closer to our destination, the snow turned to sleet, and the sleet turned to rain…the temperature gauge in the car kept rising…and I began to feel very nervous on the inside.
As we arrived, the tweets began coming in.
“You should have stayed in Birmingham. My yard is covered in snow.”
“It’s snowing hard here! There’s already an inch on my yard and it’s just started!”
“It’s a shame you didn’t just stay put!”
I HATED MY FRIENDS.
I WANTED TO TELL THEM TO SHUT UP FOREVER.
It was above freezing and raining where we were, with no hope of that turning to snow anytime soon. But the state park attendants assured me that the snow was still coming to Eufaula. LOTS of it.
And so we waited. Extraordinarily nervously.
Then the reports began surfacing that Birmingham didn’t just get snow – but a massive ice underlying the snow that destroyed all transportation in progress. The fact that Birmingham was indeed getting snow was a last minute realization, so the entire city left work to go home and/or pick up their children…which turned the entire city into what was the most massive, epic, city-wide stranding situation ever experienced. The scenes were out of an Apocalyptic Movie. Or The Walking Dead on a snowy day.
…Photos which I couldn’t TAKE, because I was stuck three hours away. With nothing but rain and melting icicles on an alligator sign.
The smug tweets turned into panicked tweets. Stories began rolling in about thousands of cars being stuck on the interstate. No possible way for emergency personnel to get to them. And this wasn’t thawing soon – Birmingham was officially iced in – and at the most inconvenient of times. The city’s children were stuck in their preschools and schools with teachers that were now emergency caregivers.
~ My Dad’s cousin was stuck in her car for eleven and a half hours.
~ Noah’s Godfather (who is an elder at our church) was trying to drive uphill, but had to abandon his car in the parking lot of a rather infamous liquor store (called Tootie’s, no less,) and walk ten miles home. In the snow, up the mountain, on a solid sheet of ice.
Meanwhile, I was panicking. Not about them – not about the actual human suffering going on in my city – but about the fact that I had spent all this money…done all this planning…dragged my kids away…and now we were stuck in this tiny cabin, iced out of our city for who knows how many days, in the rain.
I did care very much about what was going on in Birmingham, but I also cared very much about my own mistakes.
Not only were we in the rain, but we were in the only rain in this entire blasted storm. We were supposed to be in the epicenter and we were in the exact spot where the snow ended and the rain began.
If we had simply stayed home, we would have the winter wonderland I so desired.
But could I tell anyone this? Could I bemoan my situation and find comfort?
Because everyone I knew was having The Biggest Crisis of Their Lives.
~ My pregnant neighbor had to walk up a mountain, and met another pregnant walker along the way.
~ A blog friend Adrienne had to go door to door asking anyone if they had a breast pump, and my friend Maree recounts this experience:
Everyone had a story of hours of chaos, tragedy, panic, and having to urinate in their cars.
My parents, however, had felt like they should stay home that day. And sent my kids a video of them gleefully sledding down their hill.
Which was just great. Because my children, doe-eyed and pitiful, asked dozens of times thereafter, “Mommy, why didn’t we just go to Gramamma and Pop’s?? It was a lot closer….and they have SNOW!”
Regret drowned me.
I paced, stuck in the tiny cottage, rain pouring outside, children bouncing off the walls, cycling between sadness about this ridiculous adventure and guilt about being so emotional about my own situation. Then more regret. And more guilt.
Meanwhile, other people had real problems.
I read tweet after tweet, status after status about what was going on in Birmingham, trying to tune out my frantic and antsy children, watching every radar in hopes that our rain would turn to snow.
FOR TEN HOURS.
Ten hours is a long time to be stuck in a warm cabin with rain beating on the windows.
Okay it’s a longer time to be stuck in a freezing car on an interstate with ten thousand other commuters while one’s kids are stranded at school. Which is why I’m the worst person on the earth. And why Birmingham may disown me for this confession.
All I had wanted was snow and all I had gotten was the opportunity to try and keep my kid from breaking the overly fancy glasses at the state park restaurant.
I finally put the children to bed at 8:30pm, after a long day of stir-crazy in Eufaula.
And as I walked out of their room from tucking them in, I looked out the window.
And the snow had begun.
I nearly cried.
I went and jerked those kids out of bed, shoved their rain boots on over their pajamas, and tossed them out the back door.
It was beautiful. It was snow. We had finally arrived.
It only snowed for two hours, but I watched every flake fall from that sky. We ended up with as much snow as Birmingham, minus the underlying ice and tragedy. We were in a picturesque place, with beautiful views of both the sunrise and sunset, a frozen shore, and a breakfast buffet – it was the absolute utopia of Southern Snow.
Which only compounded my guilt about my ten hour attitude issue.
Oh and also? People were still stuck. Just watch a little of this video to see how stuck Birmingham was:
Tens of thousands of kids had spent the night at their schools, roads were filled with thousands of abandoned cars, my husband spent two nights sleeping at his office, all those people who had too many plans to join me on their adventures found their plans cancelled and their lives upturned, and in general my city remained in shambles for about 36 hours.
Meanwhile, we were playing blissfully, exactly where we wanted to be.
Worried about those at home, but fully enjoying our two inches of winter wonderland.
Digging up puddles,
My kids even made friends with the one other family at the state park, who had driven up from Florida for the same purpose as us.
We had snow cream,
A warming station,
And perfect happiness filled every moment.
Except when it didn’t.
When we drove home two days after the storm had hit, I lost count of the cars still abandoned on the interstates, and we made it home just one hour after Chris – Who had been at his office, which is 20 minutes away, for about 55 hours.
Armageddon had hit my city and I’d missed it – instead, I spent that time worrying about the demise of my personal adventure, and then enjoying it fully.
(For the children, of course.)
I’m sorry, Birmingham. I deserve your wrath.
What really happened to you that weekend?