Over the weekend, we received about six to eight inches of snow, and more snow is supposed to fall on Friday night, which is really just life in the Midwest. But there’s a loneliness and a stillness that surrounds you when you are driving at night in the country past snow-covered fields. It’s like the dark envelops you and you feel separated from everyone else. Sometimes that separation is peaceful, but sometime, especially when you are all alone, it’s frightening or even dangerous.
The storm had been fierce, white-out conditions throughout the stateline, a blizzard warning had been broadcast through the weather stations and people were encouraged to stay home and hunker down. But when you’re a veterinarian and a farmer’s prize heifer is having trouble delivering her first calf, you don’t have the luxury of staying home.
Dr. Dale Williams had been a veterinarian for over forty years. He knew the back roads of Stephenson County like he knew the back of his hand. He had driven through all kinds of weather and, as he slipped his tall, rubber boots over insulated socks, he realized he was going to be driving through more of it that night. He checked the supplies in his truck, he had everything he needed to help deliver the calf. He glanced out the garage window and sighed, “Damn, why did they always wait until a storm to drop their first calf?”
He opened the garage door and had to take a shovel to the drift before he could drive his pickup truck down the drive. But in a few minutes, he was on his way to the farmer’s place. The snow was blowing sideways and visibility was nearly zero. When he turned on his high beams, it looked like he had just switched into warp speed, the snow whipping past him like stars in the universe.
After about ten minutes of driving, he realized he was coming up to the hairpin curve on Bolton Road and, from past experience, knew that curve was often slick and dangerous. He gently touched his brakes and felt the tires slide. He swore softly under his breath as he geared down to second and tried the brakes again. The truck slid again, he knew he was on black ice and he also knew he wasn’t going to make the curve.
Bracing himself, he felt when the truck left the road and tumbled down into the embankment. He felt the impact of the front fender against the other side of the ditch and braced himself as the truck began to roll. After what seemed like hours, but was probably mere seconds, the truck stopped moving and everything was quiet. Dale was hanging upside down from his seatbelt. He carefully braced himself with one hand and then unlocked the belt with the other, climbing onto the ceiling of the truck which was now against the ground.
The wind had picked up and the window was nearly totally covered with snow. With little hope, he pulled out his cell phone and confirmed that there was no service in this part of the county. Sighing, he zipped up his coat, pulled on his gloves and slid his medical bag from the back seat. He unrolled the window, although it took him a few tries to figure out which way to turn the handle, and crawled out through the snow. The wind and snow whipped at his face and he stumbled for his first few steps, a little disoriented. He needed to find shelter quickly and assess the damage the crash had done to his own body.
He struggled up the embankment and pulled himself onto the road when almost immediately a pair of headlights appeared around the curve. His heart racing, he prayed that the driver had better control of his car than he had just experienced and that the oncoming vehicle would not end up careening into him. But thankfully the car stopped several feet away from him. He heard a door open.
“Are you okay?” a man asked.
“I had a little trouble with my truck,” Dale replied. “We hit that embankment pretty hard.”
“I can give you a lift as far as Dusselmeyer’s,” the man said.
Recognizing the name of the farmer he was supposed to be helping, Dale smiled. “You, my friend,” he said. “Are an answer to a prayer.”
The man chuckled softly and then put his mittened hand out to guide Dale to the other side of the car. Between the snow and the darkness, Dale didn’t get a good look at the man. And once inside the car, the light from the dashboard was too low to distinguish any features.
“I’m sorry, I must have hit my head pretty hard,” Dale said. “Do I know you?”
The man chuckled again and put the car into drive. “No, I don’t think we’ve ever met before,” he said.
“Are you from around here?” Dale asked.
“Yeah, I’ve lived around here all my life,” the man replied.
“Are you a farmer?” Dale asked.
“Yes, I was a farmer,” the man replied, easing the car down the road.
“Oh, so you’re retired,” Dale said.
Once again, the man responded with laughter. “Something like that,” he said.
Soon they were at the entrance of Dusselmeyer’s farm and the car eased in with practiced grace. The lane was covered in tall drifts, but they were no obstacle for the car or the driver as they drove without slipping once.
“Here you go,” the man said, pulling up in front of the lighted barn.
Dale grabbed his bag and nodded. “Thank you,” he said. “Thanks so much, Mr…”
“Sully,” the man replied. “Just Sully.”
Dale climbed out of the car, took a moment to look up at the barn, and then turned to thank Sully, but the car was already gone. The wind blasted against him. He stumbled to the barn, opened the door and was immediately greeted by Erik Dusselmeyer.
“What the hell happened to you?” Erik cried, seeing the gash in Dale’s forehead. “Sit down in this chair before you fall down.”
Dale complied, feeling a bit shaky. “I had a run-in with an embankment down on Bolton,” Dale replied. “It didn’t go so well.”
“How the hell did you get here?” Erik asked, as he ran cold water on some clean paper towels and started blotting the blood on his head.
“A nice guy, Sully, gave me a ride.”
Erik froze and cold water dripped on Dale’s overalls. “Hey,” Dale exclaimed, grabbing the paper towels and holding it to his wound. “What’s wrong with you?”
“Sully?” Erik asked. “Sully gave you a ride?”
“Yeah, he did,” Dale said. “And I was surprised that he said he was from around here. I don’t think I’ve ever met him.”
Erik slowly shook his head. “No. No, you wouldn’t have met him,” he replied, his voice shaking. “Sully was my grandfather and he died fifty years ago.”