The little car struggled up the winding mountain highway called the Winchester Grade in northern Idaho. We were on the way to spend Thanksgiving weekend with our son-in-law Nathan’s mom and family. Ginny drove Nathan’s car. The three-cylinder engine whined for relief. Ahead of us, Ginny’s daughter, her husband and children drove their van.
Ginny down shifted. The engine screamed, but we gained momentum. Our son-in-law, concerned for us, slowed down. “Why are they slowing down?” Ginny expressed her frustration. “If we slow down, we’ll never get started again!”
“They’re concerned.” I replied and stared at the valley spread out below us. They slowed until we pulled beside them. Heather’s window opened. “Did you down shift?”
“Of course I did, but now you slowed me down.” Ginny yelled to be heard over the wind blowing in her window. “Just go! We’ll catch up!”
We watched them speed up the mountain and out of sight. Ginny shifted again. The transmission groaned. The smell of burning fluids stung our eyes. “I think the transmission is about to burn out,” I said to Ginny.
“I know.” Ginny tried to shift again, but the engine screamed louder. “What are we going to do?” She tried shifting again. The car slowed to 10 miles per hour. “There’s a lookout. I’m pulling over.”
We pulled into the parking lot and got out of the car. The fumes caused our eyes to tear. The wind whipping across the valley made them cold on our cheeks. The temperature was 15 degrees colder than in the valley we drove through only a few miles back.
I opened the hood and stared at the engine. No fluids leaked out, but the burnt smell was stronger. “Gin, I’m not a mechanic, but I’m sure it’s the transmission or clutch, but what do I know?” Ginny looked with me. “What are we going to do?”
“Let’s give them a call.” We opened our cell phones. There was no signal. We were on a mountain in the middle of no where.
“I guess we need to wait until they miss us and come back.”
“What if they don’t?” Ginny asked. “They will.” I tried to sound confident. “I’m sure of it.”
Ginny turned toward the valley. “We have a great view though. Just look at that.”
“Wow!” The valley stretched out below us. A nearby sign said the area was the scene of a battle between the U.S. Army and the Nez Perce Indians in the late 1800s. Many men died in the grasses that were now brown in the cold November air. History was played out in these valleys.
“I’m cold. Let’s get back in the car and wait.” Ginny suggested. “I agree.” We closed the doors and cuddled as the winds rocked the car. “There’s one good thing.”
“We won’t starve. We have the food and wine we brought for dinner tomorrow.”
“I forgot that. You’re right.” She sighed. “I wonder how long it will take them to realize we’re not following?”
The sun dropped lower in the sky. A fog rolled across the valley. We watched the changing colors and turned the engine on for heat. A few cars passed. Once in a while a transport truck lumbered by. There was no sign of rescue.
Night came. We sat in the dark on the desolate mountainside. When we saw car lights winding down the mountain from the direction we were headed, we turned on our emergency flashers, in hopes it was family coming to rescue us. Time after time, the lights passed by and headed down the mountain.
The number of cars passing slowed to a trickle. A police car went by without slowing. We resigned ourselves to a lonely night in the mountains. “Hun?” I pulled Ginny closer.
“At least this will be a Thanksgiving we won’t forget.”
“There is that.” She forced a laugh. “We sure won’t.”
An hour later, a set of lights came down the mountain. Ginny turned on the flashers. The car slowed, pulled into the lot and stopped beside us. It was Ginny’s daughter and family. They’d realized we weren’t behind them and pulled into a gas station on the other side of the mountain to wait. When we didn’t pass, they came looking for us.
Nathan took over driving his car, while Ginny and Heather went in the van with the kids. Apparently, his transmission is finicky. Third gear didn’t work unless you shifted just right. He got the little car over the mountain and to his mom’s house without any trouble.
“I love you.”
“I love you too, Gin.”
“More!” She giggled and snuggled closer. “I’m thankful for being in a warm bed.”
“I won’t argue with you on that, Gin.”
“You were right, Mike.”
I held her close, closed my eyes and began to drift to sleep in the comfort of her love, as I heard her sleepy voice whisper. “This is a Thanksgiving we won’t forget.”
By Michael T. Smith