G.B. leaned out of the pick-up and peered up at an ominous gray sky.
“Shore ‘nuff gonna come a blizzard ‘fore nightfall Charle. Ain’t nothin’ between us an’ the North Pole but a barbed wire fence — an’ that’s down. Gimme a kiss sweetheart an’ y’all get the station open. We’re late, it’s near six a.m., an’ we got a lot a’ work to do today.”
“Oh G.B., I love the snow. If it comes can I keep the station open late?”
“No, I want my dinner at the proper time, same as usual?”
“But it’s fun to be in the station at night when it snows.” I pleaded.
“Oh Charle, y’all’re so strange. Fact is, if it snows I’ll probably want y’all to close up early, an’ I never do like y’all over here at night.”
Sure enough the snow began to fall late in the afternoon. Fine dry flakes fell on cold ground and accumulated steadily.
The newly constructed, interstate freeway I-40, was no more a match for winter storms that blew in than was old Route 66. Although Ash Fork was one mile high, five miles east of town I-40 rose another two thousand feet in the twenty odd mile climb to Williams. With heavy snowfalls the Highway Patrol often closed that section of the freeway.
On snowy nights many east-bound travelers, who were unfamiliar with and cautious of the road conditions ahead, filled their gas tanks and bought chains before they faced the night’s drive. While the chains were being put on they ate a hot meal at the closest café, and then loaded up on snacks and hot drinks before heading out to encounter the hazards silently waiting for them on the Williams Hill.
People traveling east who knew from experience what lay ahead, immediately booked a motel room for the night and gassed up their vehicle for the morning. Ready to relax, they lingered over hearty fare at Alice’ Café then either turned in early for the night or strolled through the quiet, snow covered streets to the “Green Door” or the “Oasis.”
I wanted to stay open late and wait for the traumatized and terrified, west-bound drivers who would come down off the hill from Williams before the Highway Patrol closed the freeway.
The storm continued and the road was still open when G.B. came in and ordered me to, “Close ‘er up.”
“Oh can’t I stay open? Please G.B.? You could get us burgers and fries, and we could eat them here in the station. Then you could go home and snooze while I stay open a little longer. Please?”
“But I’m selling an awful lot of gas and almost every set of chains . . . .”
Before I could finish my sentence my words hit him like a brick. He pulled off his padded snow cap and began to rub his bald head. After a moment of contemplation he pulled his hat back onto his head and relented. “Okay, fer y’all. Y’all can stay fer awhile.”
I hugged him enthusiastically, and he smiled fondly as he added, “Y’all’re welcome Charle.”
As soon as our supper was over, G.B. instructed me to turn up the thermostat, so the office would be a warm and cozy haven from the snow.
Locals who recalled the long road closure the winter ’67, made an evening run to Zetler’s Market. As they trudged home with their shopping bags loaded, they hollered to me, “Time to go home Charle!” and “Hey Red, close her up!”
The tiny town, grayed by winter, was transformed by the deep fall of snow into an enchanted fantasy. Familiar houses, fences, rocks, bushes and trees were transformed into mysterious and beautiful, glowing forms creating a mystic light, and still the snow flakes fell from the dark night sky.
I wandered restlessly out to the sidewalk, wrapped warmly in my Cree parka. Falling snow whispered all around me as I looked east for headlights coming off the freeway, but as far as I could see the dinner lull was still interrupting the flow of traffic.
I turned to the west, stepped into fresh unmarked snow and enjoyed the soft squeak under my feet. Looking up I watched snowflakes flutter out of the darkness and sparkle in the brilliant illumination cast by the station’s flood-lights until at last they touched my face.
My gaze followed the sound of laughter to children of all ages, skimming and spinning down Third Street on toboggans and sleds. I laughed and called out to them as they tumbled and rolled into a barricade the Highway Patrolman had erected to prevent the merrymakers from colliding with what little traffic might find its way onto Route 66 West, through town.
Because each major snowfall was greeted with a bonfire at the top of the Third Street hill (the best sledding hill in town) there were many townspeople clustered at the top sipping hot drinks. I decided, next snowfall I would share a British tradition and roast chestnuts for the revelers.
The lull was finally over and travelers began to arrive at the station. Drivers hurried their passengers into the warm office, eager to share with me all the fear they had felt coming down the Williams Hill, then their effusive comments poured forth.
“Oh thank God you’re still open! Everyone else is closed.” One man said “And it’s warm in here too.”
“Did you know there are three eighteen wheelers overturned on the hill, east of town?” A woman asked, “And two stuck in the median?”
“Everyone on that hill tried to kill me tonight — including my wife.” Growled an elderly man.
A New Yorker shouted, “What the Hell’s this? I’m not spending good money to drive four thousand miles to freeze my ass off in the Arizona desert!”
One man burst through the door, looked me up and down, studied my hooded parka, and then called back to his wife who was scuttling across the slippery driveway, “Mabel, I just found me an Eskimo in the middle of Arizona!”
Suddenly the doorway was filled with a big ol’ Texan who let fly with an explosive sneeze. He took in a couple of deep breaths to regain himself, then in a deep resonant voice that reverberated off the station’s metal walls, he stated, “Suga’ Ah surely would ‘a died’ve exposure if y’all hadn’a bin open on this wild night.”
I was not sure whether he was referring to the station or the town. Either way I enjoyed every move he made and every minor toned, Texan word he spoke, as he added his tale of woe to the stories told by the gathering throng.
All formality, bravado, pomposity, affectation and ego fell away that snowy night in Ash Fork.
Later that evening with the snow still falling, the sheriff’s deputy swung by my door and told me, “Charle you may as well go home now. The road’s closed, and the last car’s come through. Goodnight.” he called as he drove off alone, into the cold night.
I bagged the money and receipts from the till, closed the lube room doors, and then walked into the stockroom, where I flicked off the circuit breakers for the gas pumps, Union 76 sign, floodlights and canopy lights. In the darkness I felt my way back to the office then gathered up the money bag and four padlocks.
I stepped out under the dark canopy and turned the key in the front door lock. Immediately encircled by the silence of snow, I had only the dim night-light glowing in the office to light my way as I began to padlock the pumps.
Unexpectedly a large black car turned in and slid to a stop. The driver flung open the door and ran through the snow to me.
“I’ve been driving ‘round town hunting for a motel, but the rooms are all taken. Would you let me park here by the door tonight, and could you please leave the rest-room door unlocked? We’ll pay whatever you want, but I can’t drive any further. I have my mother and son with me, and I’m afraid to park on the street in case someone skids into my car.”
“Its okay ma’am, you’re welcome here. The office is still warm. Bring everyone in. I’ll call my husband and see what he wants to do.”
I called G.B. for my orders, knowing from past experience how this situation would be handled.
“Y’all gas up their car an’ don’t let ‘em pay fer it. We want ‘a give it to ‘em. Tell ‘em they’re fixin’ to stay the night with us, an’ I’ll be there as soon as I get m’ britches an’ boots on.”
Moments later the gallant knight rode up in his white Buick to rescue the people and their luggage. They were past caring whether G.B. and I could be dangerous and settled back in their seats to let strangers drive them out into the night.
G.B. cursed the reveler’s barricade which blocked his access to our lane and he terrified us all on his detour through the abandoned snowy streets. Finally he pulled up in the car-port and ushered the strangers and myself into the den.
“Y’all take the blue room.” He said to the boy, “Ladies y’all can share the pink . . . . Well it used to be the pink room till Charle painted it some fancy artist color. She’s a strange English-type Canadian artist.” He mumbled in despair for his lost pink walls.
The New Yorkers trailed behind their kindly benefactor as he led the way through the dining room to the living room. With great self awareness G.B. seated himself on his chesterfield and as usual seemingly occupied it all. Our guests settled themselves elsewhere around the room and I sat on my chesterfield beside the boy. I always marveled at how G.B.’s dominant bearing prevented the thought even occurring to anyone in that room, to sit beside him on his long sofa.
G.B. questioned the family about their trip west from the north east coast, but when their details continued too long he interrupted them and took control of the conversation, only stopping long enough to instruct me, “Charle, y’all make some hot chocolate for these people.”
Moments later I carried in G.B.’s snowfall special for all — mugs filled with steaming hot chocolate, each with a foaming dollop of butter pecan ice cream floating on top. We all sat in the warm living room sipping our drinks and listening to G.B.
When he was all talked out, G.B. rose to dismiss his audience saying, “Well, we’ll go from there.” A comment guaranteed to clear the room. And then he added, “Bacon an’ eggs, toast an’ coffee’ll be ready tomorrow mornin’ at five twenty, as usual. Y’all’re welcome to share our breakfast.”
The woman thanked us warmly and as we all rose she asked, “Do you often get blizzards like this in Arizona?”
G.B. got a far off look in his eyes and sat down again — as did we all.
“When I was a boy in Oklahoma, not quite y’all’s age.” He confided said to the boy, “It was cold. While we was at the school house it come a blizzard out’a the North.
I had a li’l ol’ Spanish mustang horse with a blaze white face. Skeeter we called him. He was well known all ‘round fer bein’ real fast in the short distance an’ bein’ a great goat ropin’ horse . . . . Anyhow, Teacher let us loose early on account a’ the weather, so I got up on m’ horse an’ got m’ li’l sister up behind me to ride home through the snow. M’ li’l brother was cryin’ ‘cause he was a-havin’ to walk beside m’ horse, Skeeter, a-holdin’ on to the saddle stirrup. He kept on a fussin’, so I stopped an’ led ol’ Skeeter over to a snow bank. Got my li’l brother up behind my sister, an’ continued home through that blizzard. Oh it was cold. M’gosh that wind was a’blowin’ cold, right out’a the north, an’ we was havin’ to face it straight on. There I was, m’ bare hands holdin’ the reins, an all that snow.”
Time we got home I was a’cryin’.” For a moment that memory of childhood held him transfixed. “Anyhow, my daddy started to holdin m’ hands an’ they hurt so awful bad. My daddy decided m’ hands an’ feet was near froze, so he made me pull off m’ wet shoes an’ socks, an’ he walked me’ ‘round an’ ‘round the yard a’ holdin’ me by the hand. I had to walk in the snow — barefoot — to thaw my feet out! Had to thaw out slow, couldn’t thaw out real fast ‘cause that hurt real bad. Ever time ‘round the yard he’d stop, make me put m’ hands an’ feet in big basins a’ snow. Then he’d rub the snow all ’round my hands and feet, circle the dark yard with me an’ then start all over again.
I thought that was the most meanest thang m’ daddy ever could a’ done to me. Me! M’ feet was froze! M’ hands was froze! An’ he made me walk in the snow — with m’ shoes off!”
Obviously still annoyed, G.B. rose abruptly and exited the room with the dramatic flair and timing of a master thespian. Slightly confused by his story, but too polite to say, our guests thanked me for our hospitality, and still scratching their heads, retired to their rooms
That night snow continued to fall on 212 South Second Street while five people inside our house slept warm, happy, proud, safe and content. But I dreamed of being a little girl again playing in the snow, with a wonderful boy who rode a horse with a blaze white face.
Posted by Charlotte Madison at 02:44
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|For over forty years, painting related totally to the American Southwest. It was people of the dry hot desert, solid mesas, cacti, stone and canyons that made my heart leap.
When I realized I would never see the desert again, I began a search for something to paint. Nana suggested, B.C, vineyards and took me to Penticton where I did one painting. Nana and Gary then began to take me on Mystery tours of the island and always included a vineyard. But they all were so green! So many leaves so many trees - I don't do trees and I rarely use green - dont really like looking at green, but I got started on a duty series not an inspired series.
I guess it was July or early August when we were driving home from a winery visit. I was grousing about painting the Festive Flying Grape series
when Gary said "Start another series, you can work on more than one at a time."
For some reason those words triggered the words "I could paint the Island artists!" Nana and Gary agreed and it was the topic of conversation all the way home
For a while I was afraid I wouldn't get volunteers to pose but it is rolling and each one offers something special to inspire me. And it is lovely to feel all I am doing was sparked by Gary and like all I do, supported by Nana.
April Update 2012
Sixteen fine artists, many of national repute, have posed for Artists of Vancouver Island and many are booked or promised. There will be no poses after June 30,2012. When I have painted all twenty-five I will turn my thought to . . . what next?