There I was driving my Uncle Joe's new motor home on Interstate 90 in Montana. Now Montana is beautiful country, it rightly earned the name "Big Sky Country" because of the scenic views. Well that's what I read anyway. However, I was crossing the state in February and the weather was shit!
I had been driving in a snow storm for the last four hours and there weren't any signs of it letting up in the near future. I was down to about 30-35 MPH and visibility was so poor, I was lucky to see the point where the headlights faded out in front of me.
Oh yeah, I forgot to mention it was night too.
The vehicle weighed about 63,000 pounds, but from the way it was handling, I thought it was a Mini Cooper instead of a Newell Luxury Motor coach. Was I stupid for driving under these conditions? Yes I was. But I was looking for someplace big enough to park this monster and avoid getting plowed in by the snowplows.
It was close to 2:00 am and I hadn't seen any other traffic or parking spots. I was getting sleepy and I knew if I didn't find a spot soon, I'd probably fall asleep at the wheel and crash. Then I saw the lights.
Sam Walton, I love you. There was a Wal-Mart sign ahead.
As I slowly drove forward, I realized the store was closed. The only light on was the sign. I slowly pulled into the parking lot and parked in a fairly clear area, kept that way by the strong wind. I wanted to be in a spot where I wouldn't get buried in deep snow. There was another car in the lot near where I picked. But besides that car I was alone in a sea of swirling white.
After I got the vehicle parked, I started the process of setting it up for an overnight stay. My first chore was to flip the switch to set the custom hydraulic jacks to level and stabilize the coach. These were a boon to "camping". They leveled the interior and took out all the sway from walking around.
The next item on the list was starting the auxiliary generator. There was no point running the main diesel engine and wasting a bunch of fuel when all I needed was electricity and heat. Hey, diesel fuel was almost $4.00 a gallon and besides the big engine vibrated the entire coach. The auxiliary generator was quiet and small.
It took me about 10 minutes to set up for the night. About the time I finished, my stomach reminded me that I hadn't eaten since lunch, about 14 hours ago. I started heating up some canned chicken noodle soup and made a grilled cheese sandwich. I knew that would tide me over until I woke up many hours later. By that time I hoped the storm would be over and I could find a diner.
While I was waiting for my supper to cook, I tried the GPS again, still "No Signal". Then I got stupid and turned on the satellite TV, "No Signal." Oh yeah, heavy cloud cover was blocking the signals. Oh well, I put a music CD in the consol. And slowly ate my dinner.
My dinner was interrupted by the door bell on the coach. "Who the hell could that be?" I thought as I turned on the outside camera. I was shocked by what I saw. A small child all bundled up and covered with snow. "What was he doing out in this weather at this time of night?" wandered through my brain.
I rushed to the door and opened it. He was starting to fall down as I opened the door so I grabbed him in my arms. He was blue from the cold. I carried him into the bedroom and started stripping the cold and frozen outer clothes off his stiff body. My bed had an electric blanked on it. I turned the control to high and covered the child with the blanket.
It seemed like hours but was only about 10 minutes when the color started returning to his face and arms. He opened his eyes and squeaked, "Mom?"
"No, my name is Gene" I replied.
"No" he said, "Help Mom."
I must have looked confused because he said, "In car."
Then I remember the parked car when I pulled in. It was nearby in the snow. I put on my heavy coat and boots and opened the door. "Damn it was cold out here," I thought. I trudged into the darkness and swirling snow toward where I remembered seeing the car. I kept looking back over my shoulder to keep my bearings by watching the marker lights on the coach.
On one of those look backs, I walked into the side of the car. It was so covered with the swirling snow that I had completely missed seeing it. It was just plain dumb luck that I found the car.
I pulled open the passenger door. It took me a couple of tries as it was partially buried in the snow and I needed to keep clearing a path for it to swing open.
Inside I saw her. She had pulled all the clothing out of a suitcase on the back seat and made a nest on the front seat for herself and her child. I could see where she had kept the child wrapped up and covered with her body.
I was about to pronounce her dead when I saw a faint pulse in her throat. I carefully picked her up and started back to the coach. I had to get her warmed up. I carried her back to the bedroom and put her down next to her child.
The kid was awake and crying for his mother.
I pulled the frozen outer clothing off the mother. The mother was not dressed for the cold. When I removed her coat she only had a nightgown on. It was a long cotton one, but there was nothing under it but mom. I started rubbing her appendages. The child watched me and was soon helping.
I picked mom up and carried her into the bathroom. I started the shower and walked into it clothes and all with her in my arms. The water was not that warm. I remembered reading somewhere that a hypothermia victim should be returned to normal temperatures slowly.
While she was warming, I was slowly freezing my butt off in the lukewarm water.
I noticed the child standing outside the shower watching his mother and I in the shower. "I'm trying to warm her up," I explained. He looked at me and started to sniffle. My guess was that he was 5 or 6 years old.
"What's your name?" I asked him. "Tessa" was the answer I received. "Oops," I thought, "A gender mix-up on my part."
"Hi Tessa. I'm Gene. Remember?"
She nodded her little head. "My mommy going to be OK?"
I really didn't know, but I lied and said "yes."
The water was starting to get even colder so I shut it off. Between Tessa and I we managed to get her mother dried off and into one of my long flannel shirts. There wasn't much I could do to maintain Mom's modesty, but I tried for Tessa's sake. After I got mom tucked between the blankets, Tessa joined her.
I watched as Tessa hugged her mom and tried to go to sleep. The light in my head finally went on. I asked, "Tessa, are you hungry?"
The little head nodded yes.
I micro waved some of my soup for her and brought it to her. I swear the bowl was empty before I could get back to the kitchen area. I returned to the bedroom with a Reese's Peanut butter Cup I had purchased for a snack as I drove.
I made a friend for life with that little gift.
I whipped up some instant hot chocolate and returned to my two charges in the bedroom. Tessa accepted her drink and I started the questioning. After all my questioning, I learned: 1) Mom's name was Mom.
2) They lived in a house.
3) She had a Daddy, but he died.
4) Mommy had a boyfriend, but he wasn't nice.
I decided I wasn't very good at questioning small children.
By now it was almost 5:00 am and we were both falling asleep. I tucked her in next to her mother who was looking a lot healthier and breathing well. I kissed Tessa on the forehead and wished her a good night. At Tessa's insistence, I did the same for Mom.
I slept on the couch until I woke up around noon. The first thing I saw was Tessa's smiling face staring down into mine. "Mommy! Gene's awake" came out of that small body at a truck driver's volume.
"Good morning Tessa. Mom's awake?" I asked. I got the nod again.
"Well let's go see what she wants for breakfast."
Before I could get both feet on the floor, I heard that same little voice yelling at the same loud volume, "Mommy, Gene want to know what we want for breakfast."
A very groggy and confused voice answered, "Gene Who?"
"Gene D'Amico," I answered. "May I come in?"
"I'm not decent," was the answer I received.
"I know. I'm the one responsible for making you that way," was my answer.
"Oh! I guess then you can come in. You must have seen it all anyway."
I got her a pair of my sweats, "They will be too big but they are warm," I said as I handed them over.
I took the breakfast order. Tessa wanted an Egg McMuffin and French fries. But she settled for the French toast and milk that I made for all of us.
We introduced ourselves over breakfast.
Tessa's mom was named Sharon, and she was running away from an abusive boy friend in Chicago. The boy friend wanted to share her charms with his drinking buddies. The men were drunk and she was able to feed them drinks until they passed out.
Sharon then grabbed Tessa, cleaned out all the men's wallets and just started driving west until the two were stopped by the snow storm.
Sharon had only the nightgown and a coat. The only clothes she packed were for Tessa.
By afternoon Wal-Mart had opened for business and the three of us went clothes shopping. They got the new clothes and I got the bill. But I was actually spending Uncle Joe's money and he wouldn't mind.
Well I guess it's time I told you a little about my history. Uncle Joe was really my Great Uncle. He was my mother's uncle. He and his wife Antoinette took me into their home when my mother and father were killed. I was only 10 at the time and didn't understand that cars just didn't blow themselves up.
.... There is more of this story ...