Appalachia Christmas

A Snowy Christmas Journey

Today’s guest post was written by Matthew Burns. 

Smith_creek_from_darlene_wilton
Pendleton County snowy road (Courtesy of Darlene Wilton)

Every Christmas Eve, my wife Shirley and I travel from her family’s home in Wyoming County in southern WV to my family’s home in Pendleton County in the Potomac Highlands of WV. The drive takes about 4 to 5 hours if the weather is good. Since Shirley’s family opens gifts on Christmas Eve and my family opens gifts on Christmas Day, we are able to be with both of our families for Christmas…although it means spending most of Christmas Eve on the road.

I recall watching the weather before we left that day, and it was calling for a bad snowstorm to hit on Christmas Eve, but in southern WV it was just rain so we thought we’d be okay. So we left Wyoming County about 4 p.m. and started up the road. We were making pretty good time but about halfway home just as we got into the mountains, we drove into snow. It looked just like a wall of snow, one minute we were in rain and the next we were in a blizzard. I turned to Shirley and said “Okay Rudolph, full power” quoting one of her favorite Christmas cartoons. We took it easy on the now bad roads and were making progress on our trip, albeit we were really going slow now.

In the back of both of our minds we were dreading the worst part of the trip which lay ahead of us. You see, there are four big mountains after we get off the interstate, and sure enough the further we went into the mountains, the worse the roads got. On the first mountain, which is usually the least treacherous of all of them, there were several accidents and the road was blocked. There were cars in the ditch and big rigs jack-knifed all over the roads. It looked like Hermie and Rudolph weren’t going to get through. The state troopers were there and were telling people to go back to Elkins and spend the night because the road was going to be closed until they got the worst of the wrecks cleared up. They expected it to be several hours if not overnight. Well, I insisted to Shirley that we wait for a little while and see if things changed, I didn’t want to miss being with my family on Christmas.

Germany_valley_wintertime
Germany Valley, Pendleton County winter

After what seemed like an eternity there was no change in the road conditions and it all looked very bleak. I was beginning to realize that I was probably going to have to spend my first Christmas away from my family on the mountain. I decided to check the weather one last time to see if there were any updates on the situation, so I turned on the radio. The song that was playing was “I’ll be Home for Christmas”, and it was especially poignant to me when it got to the part “I’ll be home for Christmas, if only in my dreams”. The radio offered no news that I wanted to hear and I was beginning to face reality and admitted that we were probably going to have to turn back towards Elkins.

Just when we were discussing where to stay in Elkins, we heard something coming up the mountain. There was a sound of “jing…jing…jing…jing”, it was either sleigh bells or road chains, and I told Shirley it was either Santy Claus or a snowplow. The sound kept getting louder and it was getting closer. A few moments later, we saw the lights of a snowplow and it was scraping the road and throwing down cinders. It cleaned the road around the wrecks just enough for our little car to get through. I went up to assess the newly plowed road and told the State Troopers that I thought I could get through and that I was going to try it. The State police tried to talk me out of it, and tried to warn me of the danger and they told me that if I wrecked I’d probably have to wait until morning to get assistance. I was concerned but I grew up driving in snow so I was confident in my driving, it was just everyone else that I was worried about. So, I got in the car and drove right through those wrecks in the newly plowed road. Behind me, several other cars decided to follow me, but the very next car behind me couldn’t get through the road and got stuck and once again blocked the road. So we were alone and for the next 15 miles or so, we never so much as saw the first vehicle. We were driving on roads that were covered with snow, and we were making our own road as we went.

After crossing the 3rd mountain, the snow immediately stopped and once again we drove into rain again, which was odd because usually the last two mountains are the worst. I’ve never seen a storm like that since, it was like someone shut off the “snow switch”. From there to where we started up the last mountain where home is, we didn’t have snow. It was once again snowing on the mountain at home, but it wasn’t all that bad, probably only 2 or 3 inches on the road. We made it home just as everyone was going to bed…the trip took us nearly nine hours. I remember blowing the car horn as we pulled up the driveway, and hollering out the window, “Ho Ho Ho, Merry Christmas Clark!”, quoting Cousin Eddie from the Christmas Vacation movie. I was just ecstatic!

My parents were shocked that I had made it across the mountains, they had been listening to the police scanner all night, and it was reporting that the mountains were blocked and no traffic was getting through. Mom said that Dad commented to her when they heard the report on the police scanner, “I’ll bet that it is killing Babe not being able to get home.” (Yes, my nickname is Babe!) My one little cousin was the only one of them that hadn’t given up hope, and she wasn’t at all shocked when Shirley and I pulled up the driveway. I remember she kept saying, “I told you all that Matthew would be here for Christmas. I told you he wouldn’t miss it.”

I know the Lord was travelling with us that night, and He answered my prayers in getting us home that snowy Christmas Eve. Ever since then, my favorite Christmas song has been “I’ll be Home for Christmas” because it reminds me of my very own Christmas miracle that occurred along a snowy roadside in the mountains of West Virginia.

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Hope you enjoyed Matthew’s snowy Christmas story as much as I did. I wish there would be snow for Christmas here in Brasstown-but it looks like it’ll be more like flip-flops and shorts weather.

Tipper

 

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14 Comments

  • Reply
    Rev. Rose Marie "RB" Redmond
    December 23, 2015 at 3:25 pm

    That song is my favorite CHRISTmas song as well, because it’s the song so many of the WW2 soldiers were singing that year (1943), including our Uncle Louis who did indeed make it home safely from that war – only to be killed in an industrial accident a couple of years later.
    God bless.
    RB
    <><

  • Reply
    Suzi Phillips
    December 23, 2015 at 12:56 pm

    Thank you so much for the wonderful story Matthew and Tipper! I just got a nice dose of my beloved WV for Christmas 🙂

  • Reply
    Shirley B
    December 22, 2015 at 10:55 pm

    I really enjoyed Matthew Burns great story,and all the others ,too.Here in central Mississippi the mention of even a possibility of snow causes so much excitement. We do get an inch or two every few years, but most ly it will look like a dusting of flour or confectioners sugar.We are happy with any amount, but this year its going to be warm and rainy during the holidays.I wish you all a Merry Christmas,and tell us some more snow stories!

  • Reply
    Ed
    December 22, 2015 at 3:53 pm

    I forgot to mention. When we got back down to Whittier there was no snow on the ground and it was raining.

  • Reply
    Ed
    December 22, 2015 at 3:50 pm

    Matthew’s story takes me back to a happier time when we faced “danger” and didn’t even know it. I remember when four big old teenagers piled in Joe Arvey’s early 50’s Volkswagen beetle and headed off for an evening drive in the snow. The car had never had a heater. Joe had an alcohol heater in the rear floorboard for if the windshield iced up completely. There was about 4″ as his house when we left. We decided to drive up to Cowee, across Leatherman Gap and down Conleys Creek to Whittier. The farther and higher we got the deeper the snow and the harder it was snowing. The old bug slipped and spun a lot but we got to the top. We stopped to measure the snow but didn’t have anything in the car that would touch the ground. We dug a hole about 6″ deep and then stuck a screwdriver about a foot long in the snow. It hit the ground with only about 2″ showing. Looking back at where we had we could see the tire marks and also where the bottom of the car had slid. Those old VW’s had a “pan” instead of a frame. In other words we were riding in a sled with wheels.
    Here we are at midnight at 4100 feet in +-18” of snow facing a drop of 2000 feet back down to Whittier on a dragons tail of a one lane forest service road in a flat bottomed sled with front wheels that served only as rudders. The trip back down started out slowly because the friction of the snow on the bottom caused Joe to have to use power to go downhill. “Piece of cake” I think! No need for brakes that wouldn’t have worked anyway. But, the farther down we got, the less snow had accumulated. So after a mile or so the sound of the car sliding on the snow had ceased. The car was running on its wheels again. The brakes that we didn’t need before didn’t do any good now. The farther we got the faster we went. Joe managed to keep it in the road except in one switchback where we went down through the woods and came back out in the road below. Now that will make you bite holes in the seat cover!
    That little jaunt taught me a lesson. I will never ever ride in a car in the snow without a heater again. I got plum cold.
    I am sure that there are those who will dispute my facts but that’s my tail and I sticking to it!

  • Reply
    eva nell mull wike, PhD
    December 22, 2015 at 2:31 pm

    Oh my! What beautiful stories about dangerous efforts to BE HOME FOR CHRISTMAS! We will no longer make that trip through those rugged passes and crooked roads in the NC mountains. Now our ‘one’ family lives minutes away on city streets. But I wish everyone safe travels and a HAPPY NEW YEAR!
    Eva Nell Mull Wike, PhD

  • Reply
    PinnacleCreek
    December 22, 2015 at 1:27 pm

    This story held my interest, and I found myself really rooting for Matthew to get across those mountains. Nothing quite like a snowy Christmas in the mountains. I am very familiar with Wyoming county, and actually did a lot of Winter traveling through there in my work. That county can be especially hazardous in Winter, as it is very mountainous. To travel further into the mountains takes a brave soul indeed. Thank you Matthew Burns.

  • Reply
    Ron Stephens
    December 22, 2015 at 12:36 pm

    I had one of those ! We were traveling from TN up into KY. Can’t recall now whether we ran into snow or left in it. Anyway, there was a last little ridge to get over before we got onto more rolling country. But the road was banked toward the inside and a deep ditch. If we went into it we would have to be pulled out. I tried twice to make the hill, holding high to the outside. But each time the back end slid sideways towards the ditch.
    So I got out and told my wife Sharon I would push against the passenger side rear corner and for her to keep going all the way to the top of the hill.
    It worked but Lordy it was dangerous. Guess we had our angels working extra that night.
    We were married over twenty years before we were at our own house on Christmas day.

  • Reply
    Ken Roper
    December 22, 2015 at 12:20 pm

    Tipper,
    Nice Christmas Story by Matthew Burns! It was if I was riding with him around every curve. I guess we won’t have any snow until the middle of January ’16, according to the weather forecast. I love SNOW, but not ICE cause nothing works very well on that stuff. Merry Christmas to everyone…Ken

  • Reply
    Shirl
    December 22, 2015 at 9:09 am

    Every sentence of Babe’s story gave me goose bumps. When I was young, I had a few Christmas miracles of my own while traveling a fourteen hour trip to visit my family at Thanksgiving or Christmas. Some of the mountains closer to home offered a real challenge to climb even during good weather. I have panic attacks just thinking about those snowy roads and the condition of the car driven by a teenage girl trying to get home for Christmas.
    The barefoot weather here in KY is making it hard to get in the Christmas spirit.

  • Reply
    dolores
    December 22, 2015 at 8:59 am

    I thoroughly enjoyed reading this story of determination. I just know the Lord was watching over him as he traveled this treacherous trip. Matthew, I think you also had an angel riding along in that car. Thanks for sharing this story of hope and love. Merry and blessed Christmas to those at home and those traveling to be with friends and family.

  • Reply
    Miss Cindy
    December 22, 2015 at 7:24 am

    Well Babe, that is quite a Christmas Story. I bet that changed your perspective on Christmas for the rest of your life. Nothing like a harrowing experience to alter your life values.
    Thanks for sharing!

  • Reply
    Barb Wright
    December 22, 2015 at 7:20 am

    What a nice story! I really enjoyed it. I’m with you,Tipper..it is way too warm and rainy for Christmas. We most always have cold up here, but not this year. Guess we will be dreaming of a white Christmas….

  • Reply
    Ethelene Dyer Jones
    December 22, 2015 at 7:19 am

    Matthew Burns’ story held my interest and I was pulling for him and Shirley to get safely to his family’s home. It reminded me of a Christmas Day, probably in the early 60’s when our children were young, when we were traveling on Christmas Day from our home in Epworth, GA (near Blue Ridge, Fannin County), to Gainesville to my husband Grover’s family. We were actually “going south” about 70 miles. The ice storm that had been predicted and which we thought we could “out run” before it set in, actually came after we were on our way. Ice is even harder to drive through than snow! But somehow, my husband, an expert driver, managed to maneuver our car through those icy roads and we arrived safely at the M. D. Jones home in Gainesville–later than expected but still safe and sound, although somewhat “rattled” at the challenge of maneuvering the ice. Sometimes good sense does not quell that desire for family gatherings at Christmastime! Be safe, all of you travelers at Christmas, and a blessed Christmas to all.

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